Dakar Stage 7 Highlights: Casey Currie climbs in side-by-sides

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Stage 7 of the Dakar Rally was made up of hard-pack that favored speed setups and fesh-fesh (fine, loose sand) that gave the handling racers an advantage.  In the end, familiar names topped the leaderboard with both Stephane Peterhansal and Sam Sunderland taking their second stage wins in cars and motorcycles respectively.

American Casey Currie is climbing through the class rankings. Standing 14th at the end of Stage 2, he improved to seventh by Stage 5, sixth at Stage 6 and moved up one more spot to fifth. He is slowly catching the leaders while battling setbacks such as the suspension damage incurred on Stage 7.

Here are some of the other highlights:

In the cars class, Stephane Peterhansel took a hard landing after jumping a dune and suffered whiplash, but that was not enough to slow him. He beat Nani Roma by four minutes and is slowly closing the gap on Nasser Al-Attiyah, who finished nearly 12 minutes back in fourth. … Wedged between, Carlos Sainz rounded out the top three. … Robby Gordon and Blade Hildebrand continue to soldier on, but well off the pace. Gordon is currently more than 60 hours behind the class leader; Hildebrand is 27 hours behind. Both drivers lost more than four hours during Stage 7.

Class Leaders: Al-Attiyah holds an advantage of 29:16 over Peterhansel and 37:59 over Roma

In motorcycles, Sam Sunderland became the first motorcycle rider in the 2019 rally to win two stages. His rollercoaster ride has also contributed to two stages in which he finished sixth and 12th. … For Jose Florimo it may be a case of too little, too late. He sits 12th in the class rankings, but has finished second in two of the last three stages. … Ricky Brabec retook the class lead with his third-place finish. … Adrien van Beveren has been steady and fast with six of his seven stages ending either fourth or fifth; in Stage 7, he was fourth. … Toby Price has also developed a tendency to finish well or poorly. Since Stage 2, he has alternated results of third or fourth with those of eighth or ninth.

Class Leaders: Brabec holds an advantage of 7:47 over van Beveren and 8:28 over Price

In side by sides Francisco Lopez Contardo grabbed his second consecutive stage win and third overall to climb to second in the class standings. … Reinaldo Varela retook the class lead with his second-place finish. … Rodrigo Piazzoli rounded out the top three. … American Casey Currie climbed to fifth in class after finishing ninth in the stage. … Sergey Kariakin barrel-rolled his side by side and broke his running gear, but was able to finish the stage five hours off the pace. His title hopes are practically over after starting the morning second in class.

Class Leaders: Varela hold an advantage of 4:03 over Contardo and 45:26 over Piazolli

In quads, With his sixth stage win of the rally, Nicolas Cavigliasso extended his lead over the field to more than an hour and 15 minutes. … Alexandre Giroud earned his best stage finish of the year with a second; he finished third in Stage 2 and 4. … Manuel Andujar scored his second consecutive podium with back-to-back third-place finishes. … Gustavo Gallego finished just off the podium in fourth … Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli lost 8:47 to the class leader with his fifth-place finish.

Class Leaders: Cavigliasso holds and advantage of one hour, 15:36 over Ferioli and one hour, 38:39 over Gallego

In trucks, Gerard de Rooy was originally listed as the winner of Stage 6, but officials elevated Dmitry Sotnikov overnight – making de Rooy wait a day to score his first stage win of the rally. … Siarhei Viazovich finished 30:55 back in second with Eduard Nikolaev rounding out the top three. … Sotnikov finished sixth on the stage and lost nearly an hour to class leader Nikolaev.

Class Leaders: Nikolaev holds and advantage of 32:54 over Sotnikov and one hour, 15:28 over de Rooy

Stage Wins

Motorcycles
Sam Sunderland [2] (Stage 5 and 7), Joan Barreda [1] (Stage 1), Matthias Walkner [1] (Stage 2), Xavier de Soultrait [1] (Stage 3), Ricky Brabec [1] (Stage 4) and Pablo Quintanilla [1] (Stage 6)

Quads
Nicolas Cavigliasso [6] (Stage 1, 2, 4, 5, 6 and 7) and Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli [1] (Stage 3)

Cars
Sebastien Loeb [3] (Stage 2, 5 and 6), Nasser Al-Attiyah [2] (Stage 1 and 4) and Stephane Peterhansel [2] (Stage 3 and 7)

Side-by-sides
Francisco Lopez Contardo [3] (Stage 2, 6 and 7), Reinaldo Varela [1] (Stage 1), Gerard Farres Guell [1] (Stage 3), Sergei Kariakin [1] (Stage 4) and Rodrigo Piazzoli [1] (Stage 5)

Trucks
Eduard Nikolaev [3] (Stage 1, 2 and 5), Andrey Karginov [2] (Stage 3 and 4), Dmitry Sotnikov [1] (Stage 6) and Gerard de Rooy [1] (Stage 7)

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Fernando Alonso will decide this summer whether to pursue F1 again

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Fernando Alonso said he will determine by this summer if he would consider a return to Formula One next season.

After announcing Tuesday that he will return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May with Arrow McLaren Racing SP, Alonso said “right now the Indy 500 will take all of my concentration” but left the door open for F1 in 2021.

“In my case, probably during the summer period, I’ll make a decision on 2021 if Formula One is still appealing to me,” Alonso told IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview (watch the video above). “The 2021 rules (in F1) are definitely a step forward, and hopefully things can be more mixed and not only three teams capable of winning races. So all this factors into play. I may consider that possibility.”

Alonso won consecutive Formula One championships in 2005-06 with Renault. He has 32 victories in an F1 career that started in 2001 and also includes stints at Ferrari and McLaren.

His last victory on the circuit was May 12, 2013 in Barcelona. He is winless in his most recent 110 starts, including the past 77 races with McLaren in 2015-18.

The Guardian recently reported that McLaren CEO Zak Brown said Alonso wouldn’t be returning to F1 with the team.

Alonso also told Diffey that returning to F1 from a two-season absence wouldn’t necessarily be linked to McLaren’s performance.

“I think they did well last year, and hopefully they make another step forward and close to the top three because they deserve it and are a fantastic team,” he said.

Though he is optimistic about more parity, Alonso said six-time champion Lewis Hamilton should be a favorite for the 2020 title based on preseason testing in which Mercedes turned heads with a new steering system.

“It seemed Mercedes is still quite competitive,” Alonso said. “They show enormous potential on the development side and on the progress from one year to next. Formula One is impossible to predict because many things happen in season.

“At the starting point, (Mercedes) are the favorites. When you have Lewis in the car and Mercedes with the potential they have, they have to be No. 1 probably.”