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Dakar Rally: Potential winners starting to come into focus after Stage 11

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Editor’s note: Check out expanded video highlights of Stage 11 Thursday at 5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Stage 11 of the 2018 Dakar Rally is history and things are really tightening up in the overall standings.

With three stages left – Thursday, Friday and Saturday – several competitors are either pulling away or the battle for the championship is getting tighter.

For example:

* In Trucks, we are seeing the tightest battle in the standings. Argentina’s Federico Villagra leads the overall rankings, but Russia’s Eduard Nikolaev is only one minute, 7 seconds behind. Belarus’s Siarhei Vlazovich is a distant third (3:07:22 behind) and likely won’t have enough time to recover in the final three stages to make a last-ditch bid for the championship.

* In Bikes, Austria’s Matthias Walkner has a 32 minute, 00 second lead over Argentina’s Kevin Benavides. In fact, second through fourth place in the overall standings are less than an hour behind Walkner, meaning anything can happen and there could still be a major shuffling in the final three stages.

* In UTVs, Brazil’s Reinaldo Varela holds a relatively slim 44 minute, 33 second lead over France’s Patricie Garroueste, with Peru’s Juan Uribe Ramos a distant third in the overall standings at 1:53:58 behind.

MORE: Dakar Rally Stage 11 video highlights: Cars, Bikes, Trucks, Quads

Wednesday’s Stage 11 went from Belen, Argentina to Chilecito, Argentina.

Three stages remain to be completed in the 14-stage event, all in Argentina.

Stage 12 kicks off this morning from Chilecito, Argentina and ends in San Juan, Argentina

Here’s recaps of the top three classes from Wednesday’s Stage 11 – Bikes, Cars and Trucks – as well as how the Quads and UTVs look with three more stages remaining.

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BIKES

Australia’s Toby Price avenged his terrible round on Tuesday – when he lost almost an hour’s time after getting lost in a river bed – to bounce back and win Wednesday’s Stage 11.

Price, the 2016 Rally Bikes champion, finished ahead of Argentina’s Kevin Benavides and France’s Antoine Meo in the stage, and the win also allowed Price to move up to third in the overall standings.

Also of note, Spain’s Joan Barreda Bort, who came into Stage 11 ranked second in the overall rankings behind Austria’s Mathias Walkner, withdrew from the Rally. It’s unclear if the reason for Barreda Bort’s decision was mechanical or medical.

Here’s the Stage 11 results, as well as updated overall rankings:

  1. Australia’s Toby Price, KTM, 4:01:33
  2. Argentina’s Kevin Benavides, Honda, 4:03:11
  3. France’s Antoine Meo, KTM, 4:08:04
  4. S.’s Ricky Brabec, Honda, 4:09:07
  5. Austria’s Matthias Walkner, KTM, 4:12:34

AMERICAN RIDERS

4th: Ricky Brabec, Honda, 4:09:07

13th: Andrew Short, Husqvarna, 4:37:55

14th: Mark Samuels, Honda, 4:38:00

23rd: Shane Esposito, KTM, 4:58:49

68th: Bill Conger, Husqvarna, 7:25:28

OVERALL 

  1. Austria’s Matthias Walkner
  2. Argentina’s Kevin Benavides, 32:00 behind
  3. Australia’s Toby Price, 39:17 behind
  4. Spain’s Gerard Farres, 49:17 behind
  5. France’s Antoine Meo, 59:05 behind

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CARS

The Netherlands’ Bernhard ten Brinke, who has been doing some strong racing and high finishing in recent stages, was the top finisher in Stage 11.

It was ten Brinke’s second career stage win in the Rally, having done so the first time in 2016.

France’s Cyril Despres finished second, followed by Spain’s Carlos Sainz in third.

Here’s the Stage 11 results, as well as updated overall rankings:

  1. The Netherlands’ Bernhard ten Brinke, Toyota, 4:10:54
  2. France’s Cyril Despres, Peugeot, 4:15:29
  3. Spain’s Carlos Sainz, Peugeot, 4:15:34
  4. France’s Stephane Peterhansel, Peugeot, 4:15:44
  5. Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah, Toyota, 4:16:50

OVERALL 

  1. Spain’s Carlos Sainz
  2. France’s Stephane Peterhansel, 1:00:45 behind
  3. Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah, 1:24:02 behind
  4. The Netherlands’ Bernhard ten Brinke, 1:27:35 behind
  5. South Africa’s Giniel de Villiers, 1:40:05 behind

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TRUCKS

Belarus’s Siarhei Vlazovich won his first career stage in the Rally, and maintained his third-place ranking in overall standings with three more stages to go.

Argentina’s Federico Villagra finished second while Russia’s Dmitry Sotnikov was third.

But perhaps the biggest news in the class is the overall rankings, with Argentina’s Federico Villagra holding the lead, but Russia’s Eduard Nikolaev is just one minute, seven seconds behind.

Here’s the Stage 11 results, as well as updated overall rankings:

  1. Belarus’s Siarhei Vlazovich, Maz, 5:14:10
  2. Argentina’s Federico Villagra, Iveco, 5:15:34
  3. Russia’s Dmitry Sotnikov, Kamaz, 5:43:01
  4. Czech Republic’s Martin Kolomy, Tatra, 5:44:34
  5. Netherlands’ Gert Huznik, Renault, 5:48:23

OVERALL 

  1. Argentina’s Federico Villagra
  2. Russia’s Eduard Nikolaev, 0:01:07 behind
  3. Belarus’s Siarhei Vlazovich, 3:07:22 behind
  4. Russia’s Airat Mardeev, 4:40:00 behind
  5. Kazakhstan’s Artur Ardavichus, 5:28:39 behind

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QUADS

  1. Argentina’s Nicolas Cavigliasso, Yamaha, 5:20:45
  2. Chile’s Ignacia Casale, Yamaha, 5:35:59
  3. Kazakhstan’s Dmitry Shilov, Yamaha, 5:55:34
  4. Argentina’s Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli, Yamaha, 5:57:40
  5. France’s Alex Dutrie, Yamaha, 5:28:24

OVERALL

  1. Chile’s Ignacio Casale
  2. Argentina’s Nicolas Cavigliasso, 1:34:13 behind
  3. Argentina’s Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli, 2:09:15 behind
  4. France’s Alex Dutrie, 3:56:48 behind
  5. Brazil’s Marcelo Medeiros, 4:22:22 behind

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SxS UTV

  1. France’s Patricie Garrouste, Polaris, 6:02:44
  2. Brazil’s Reinaldo Varela, Can-Am, 6:06:23
  3. Argentina’s Leonel Larrauri, Can-Am, 6:13:54
  4. France’s Claude Fournier, Polaris, 6:52:15
  5. Spain’s Jose Pena Campos, Polaris, 6:54:13

OVERALL 

  1. Brazil’s Reinaldo Varela
  2. France’s Patricie Garroueste, 44:33 behind
  3. Peru’s Juan Uribe Ramos, 1:53:58 behind
  4. Spain’s Jose Pena Campos, 8:46:25 behind
  5. France’s Claude Fournier, 8:56:52 behind

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THURSDAY’S SCHEDULE:

Stage 12 takes place Thursday, going from Chilecito, Argentina to San Juan, Argentina

After Thursday, only two stages remain in the 2018 Rally on Friday and Saturday.

MORE: Dakar Rally daily stages schedule, NBCSN broadcast schedule, list of all competitors.

MORE: Stage 10 wrapup

MORE: Stage 9 cancelled due to weather, impassible course conditions

MORE: Stage 8 wrapup

MORE: Stage 7 wrapup

MORE: Stage 6 wrapup

MORE: Stage 5 wrapup

MORE: Stage 4 wrapup

MORE: Stage 3 wrapup

MORE: Stage 2 wrapup

MORE: Stage 1 wrapup

F1 Preview – 2018 French Grand Prix

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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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