Sunderland breaks through. Photo: Getty Images

Dakar 2017: Sunderland, Peterhansel triumph overall in bikes, cars

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Sam Sunderland has become the first British competitor to ever capture a victory at the Dakar Rally, with the Red Bull KTM rider completing his journey on Saturday in the 2017 Dakar Rally to win the bike category.

Coverage from Friday’s stage will air today, January 14 at 6:30 p.m. ET, with 12th and final stage coverage on Sunday, January 15 at midnight ET on NBCSN.

While Sunderland’s story is a remarkable one on it own, the man known as “Mr. Dakar,” Stephane Peterhansel, has continued to add to his own remarkable story. The Peugeot driver has captured his 13th Dakar victory, and second in a row in cars.

Eduard Nikolaev (trucks) and Sergey Karyakin (quads) have captured those class victories.

Today’s 12th and final stage from Rio Cuarto to Buenos Aires was one of the shortest stages in this year’s Dakar, which made big movement up-and-down the field rather unlikely.

BIKES

Sunderland had not even finished his first few cracks at Dakar. Mechanical failures sidelined him in 2012 and 2014, the latter year after he became the youngest stage winner in Dakar history with a win on the first stage in Argentina.

But he wasn’t even able to start in 2013 and 2016, the latter year breaking his femur.

Sunderland secured his first and only stage win of this year’s Dakar on day five, making it five winners in as many days. However, he won the rally with out-and-out consistency, with only one major stoppage costing him any sort of time and recovering to a third place in stage seven.

Sunderland was only sixth in today’s stage – Adrien Van Beveren and Gerard Farres set an identical time of 30 minutes and 29 seconds to tie for the stage win – but with more than 30 minutes in hand of a lead going into the day, the Englishman could afford to bring it home without worry.

“To finish here is incredible. It’s the first Dakar I ever finished. To finish first is an incredible feeling. I’m so lost for words!” Sunderland said after the rally. “I’m so grateful to the team, the organizers, all the people around me. It’s not an individual effort.”

His near flawless run will go down in British motorsport and Dakar history rather nicely. A further breakout post from the Red Bull Content Pool is linked here.

Sunderland won from Walkner by 32 minutes, with Farres moving onto the final podium in third by way of his run today to complete a KTM podium sweep, continuing KTM’s incredible run of form.

Van Beveren finishes this overall rally in fourth, top Yamaha, with Joan Barreda, the Honda rider who led bikes with three stage wins settling for fifth after a one-hour penalty for a fuelling infringement in stage four ultimately putting pause to his chances. Paulo Goncalves, another Honda rider, was sixth with 48 minutes and change worth of penalties.

Of note, American Ricky Brabec captured his first stage win on his Honda in stage seven, but fell out of the rally near the end of the race. Toby Price, the defending bikes winner, has made it home to Australia following his accident early in the rally that left him with a fractured left femur. An outpouring of support came in for him as he is in his recovery process. Other injuries occurred on a brutal 10th stage, including to Pablo Quintanilla, Simon Marcic (in an incident with Peterhansel) and Stefan Svitko.

BIKE STAGE WINNERS

Stage 1: Juan Pedrero (Xavier de Soultrait penalized post-stage)
Stage 2: Toby Price
Stage 3: Joan Barreda
Stage 4: Matthias Walkner
Stage 5: Sam Sunderland
Stage 7: Ricky Brabec
Stage 8: Joan Barreda
Stage 10: Michael Metge
Stage 11: Joan Barreda (awarded three minutes; Paolo Goncalves demoted to second)
Stage 12: Gerard Farres/Adrien Van Beveren

CARS

Stephane Peterhansel at the finish of stage twelve of the 2017 Dakar Rally on January 14, 2017 in Rio Cuarto, Argentina. (Photo: Dan Isitene/Getty Images)

The car battle quickly shifted from a potential three-horse race among the Peugeot, Toyota and MINI competitors to a two-horse race among the two rally legends of this generation, Dakar legend Peterhansel and FIA World Rally Championship legend Loeb, both in Peugeots, rather early on once their rivals started falling by the wayside.

Myriad stoppages saw nearly all of the Toyota Hilux entries fall out early, including past Dakar winner Nasser Al-Attiyah, who was the only non-Peugeot stage winner this year. MINI never mounted a serious challenge with Mikko Hirvonen more than half an hour in arrears. And another Peugeot fell out as Carlos Sainz survived a wild barrel roll in stage four.

It left Peterhansel and Loeb to spar the rest of the rally, often separated only by seconds rather than minutes, but with Peterhansel having eked out just enough of a margin of more than five minutes to ensure Loeb didn’t have a realistic chance to close that gap today.

In the end, as in bikes, the competitor who boasted the most stage wins did not win the class overall. Loeb added six stage wins this year to his four from last year, including the last four in a row from stage eight through today’s stage 12.

All the while though, Peterhansel was pushing him closely and the gap never swung too far. “Mr. Dakar” captured his 13th Dakar victory by five minutes and 13 seconds over Loeb. Cyril Despres, the last driver not named Loeb or Peterhansel to win a stage in cars, ended third to complete the car podium.

Nani Roma and Giniel De Villiers upheld Toyota’s honor somewhat with fourth and fifth place finishes overall, but more than an hour back in both cases. In sixth, Orlando Terranova was the top MINI finisher in the car originally slated for American Bryce Menzies, who was ruled out prior to the start of the rally.

CAR STAGE WINNERS

Stage 1: Nasser Al-Attiyah
Stage 2: Sebastien Loeb
Stage 3: Stephane Peterhansel
Stage 4: Cyril Despres
Stage 5: Sebastien Loeb
Stage 7: Stephane Peterhansel
Stage 8: Sebastien Loeb
Stage 10: Sebastien Loeb
Stage 11: Sebastien Loeb
Stage 12: Sebastien Loeb

QUADS/TRUCKS

Eduard Nikolaev (trucks) and Sergey Karayakin (quads) put their stamp on the respective classes as the rally went on. With Gerard De Rooy falling from contention in trucks, it left Nikolaev to control that category. In quads, Karaykin fought off Igancio Casale’s advances, although Casale fell back later.

STAGE MAP

STAGE RECAPS

Stage 11
Stage 10 and (VIDEOS)
Stage nine (cancelled due to weather) and (VIDEO)
Stage eight (VIDEOS)
Rest day VIDEOS
Stage seven
Stage six (cancelled due to weather)
Stage five (shortened due to weather)
Stage four and (VIDEOS)
Stage three and (VIDEOS)
Stage two and (VIDEOS)
Stage one and (VIDEOS)

F1 Preview – 2018 French Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
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It’s hard to believe that the French Grand Prix, the oldest grand prix event on the planet, as it dates back to June of 1906, was ever removed from the Formula 1 calendar.

Alas, not since 2008 at Magny-Cours has Formula 1 held a race on French soil. Yet, that all changes this weekend, as Formula 1 visits the Circuit Paul Ricard for its first French race in a decade.

Formula 1 teams are not strangers to Paul Ricard. It has been a popular testing facility for years, as evidenced by the below photo from 2016, featuring Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari in a wet tire test.

LE CASTELLET, FRANCE – JANUARY 26: Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Scuderia Ferrari drives during wet weather tire testing at Circuit Paul Ricard on January 26, 2016 in Le Castellet, France. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

However, in terms of racing, Paul Ricard has also been absent from the calendar for quite a long time – the last time Formula 1 race at Paul Ricard was in 1990. Alain Prost won for Ferrari that day.

1990: Alain Prost of France punches the air in celebration after passing the chequered flag in his Scuderia Ferrari to win the French Grand Prix at the Paul Ricard circuit in Le Beausset, France. Mandatory Credit: Pascal Rondeau/Allsport

As such, despite being a known quantity as a testing facility, how a race weekend will shake out is anybody’s guess.

And what’s more, it marks the beginning of three consecutive race weekends – The French Grand Prix, The Austrian Grand Prix, and The British Grand Prix – which F1 teams and drivers are calling “the triple header.”

Talking points ahead of the French Grand Prix are below.

A Journey Into the Unknown?

Like all new venues, or resurrected and refurbished ones in this case, the Circuit Paul Ricard represents somewhat of an unknown, as there’s no available race data to make predictions off of.

And the 3.61-mile, 15-turn track itself represents a range of challenges. It has fast corners, like Turns 1 and 2 (S de la Verrerie), a technical section between Turns 3 and 7 (Virage de l’Hotel through the Mistral Straight Start), and a 1.1-mile straightaway in the Mistral Straight, though it is separated by a chicane (Turns 8 and 9).

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff discussed the challenge of the circuit, highlighting the lack of data to build off of as well the tough three-race stretch ahead as especially challenging, in a preview on Formula 1’s website.

“France should be an interesting race. We don’t often get to race on a track where we have little to no historical data. It makes preparing for the weekend a bit trickier than usual, but that element of the unknown also adds to the challenge. The French Grand Prix marks the first race of the triple header, which will test all F1 teams to their limits, but also offers the chance to score a lot of points over the course of three weeks – which is precisely what we’re setting out to do,” said Wolff.

That element of the unknown makes Paul Ricard one of the biggest wildcards on the 2018 F1 calendar, and a championship shake up could be in the cards as a result.

Ferrari, Mercedes Continue Their Back and Forth

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 25: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H leads Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 on track during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 25, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Ferrari and Mercedes have traded jabs throughout the 2018 season, with neither able to pull away from the other so far through seven races.

Sebastian Vettel enters the French Grand Prix with a one-point lead over Lewis Hamilton, and holds a slight edge in victories – three to Hamilton’s two – and comes off a thorough domination of the Canadian Grand Prix.

Vettel led every lap at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on his way to victory, while Valtteri Bottas had to carry the Mercedes flag in finishing second. Hamilton languished in fifth, a surprising and disappointing result given his previous success there.

The aforementioned Toto Wolff described it as a “wake up call,” though Mercedes will roll out a power unit upgrade this weekend – Ferrari and Renault, which also powers Red Bull Racing, rolled out upgrades of their own in Canada.

With four long straightaways present at Paul Ricard, power will certainly be at a premium, so such upgrades will be vital in giving Mercedes a chance to make amends after Canada’s disappointment.

Trio of French Drivers Look to Impress on Home Soil

It comes hardly as a surprise that the three French drivers – Romain Grosjean, Pierre Gasly, and Esteban Ocon – are keen to make an impression at their home race.

And all three could certainly use a boost. Gasly has only one finish inside the points (seventh in the Monaco Grand Prix) since his stellar fourth place effort in the Bahrain Grand Prix. Ocon is coming off back-to-back points finishes (sixth in Monaco, ninth in Canada), but he has only one other finish inside the points this year (tenth, in Bahrain). And Grosjean, despite showing the speed to finish in the points, is yet to score any in 2018.

As such, all three are hoping for big things in their home race this weekend.

“I want to get a good weekend, have some luck, get my first points of the season, and get a lot of support from the fans,” said Grosjean. “I think we should be in a nice place at Paul Ricard. I’m always looking forward to jumping back in the car. I just love driving an F1 car.”

Ocon, who has raced and won at Paul Ricard in the past, expects his prior experience could be a big help.

“I did race at Paul Ricard early in my career – it was actually where I had my first victory in single seaters in 2013 so I have some fantastic memories of the place,” Ocon described. “I hope we can add some more success this weekend. Having been there in the junior categories makes getting used to a new track in a Formula One car much easier. I think I will find my rhythm quite quickly.”

Gasly’s excitement level obviously matches that of his French compatriots, with the added bonus that the return coincides with his rookie F1 effort.

“For me it will be absolutely incredible that my first full season of Formula 1 coincides with the return of a French Grand Prix to the calendar for the first time in 10 years,” said Gasly. “That has to be a reason for me to be very happy and I’m really excited to be racing in my home country. I can tell it will be a special feeling going out on track and actually, I have spoken to Jean Alesi and Alain Prost about it and they both told me that it will feel really special and something that you really have to experience as a Frenchman racing in France.”

Qualifying for The French Grand Prix begins at 9:55 a.m. ET on Saturday, with Sunday’s race at 9:30 a.m. ET.

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