Dakar Rally 2022, Day 4: Overall leader Nasser Al-Attiyah wins stage after penalty

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Nasser Al-Attiyah maintained a hold of the overall lead on Day 4 of the 2022 Dakar Rally, picking up a stage victory in the car division Wednesday.

The win initially was awarded to Yazeed Al Rajhi, but a 2-minute penalty for speeding bumped the Saudi Arabia native to fifth. Al Rajhi still climbed to third overall, just over 49 minutes behind Al-Attiyah.

Sebastien Loeb finished second in Wednesday’s 707-kilometer stage from Al Qaisumah to Riyadh and is second in the overall rankings to Al-Attiyah, who leads by 38 minutes through four of 12 stages.

DAKAR RALLY ON NBC: How to watch nightly coverage at the Olympic Channel

Losing the victory actually was a satisfactory result for Al Rajhi, who didn’t want to start first Thursday because bikes won’t be preceding the cars (and leaving their tracks) in Stage 5. “We were trying not to go too fast to avoid having to open the stage tomorrow because there won’t be any motorbikes in front,” Al Rajhi said.

That also was the plan for Al-Attiyah, though the three-time Dakar Rally champion still felt confident.

“We are moving in the right direction day after day,” Al-Attiyah said. “We tried to set a high pace, but our plan was not having to open tomorrow because there will be no bikes and, therefore, no tracks. But even if we falter a bit tomorrow in these conditions, it will put us in a favorable position for the next day.”

Loeb lost only 25 seconds to the lead and was pleased to be starting Stage 5 behind Al-Attiyah.

“Finishing behind Nasser today to start behind him tomorrow is a good trade-off,” Loeb said. “There won’t be any bikes at the front, so the first cars will regroup, so it’s not bad at all. Tomorrow will be difficult: a big stage where things can happen. At any rate, our confidence in the car has been restored. It was a clean special.”

In the bikes class, Joan Barreda Bort scored his second stage victory of 2022 while Sam Sunderland held an overall lead of 3 minutes. Ricky Brabec was the highest-finishing American in the stage with a 10th, and the 2020 overall winner is just under 55 minutes off the lead.

“We’re doing great,” Brabec said. “Everything was good. I started out seventh today and made a strong push to try and make a little bit of time. Unfortunately, I suffered a small speeding penalty. Other than that, the stage was good. Happy to be here with no mistakes. Happy to also keep the bike on the wheels. I haven’t dropped them once, so that’s all good.

“Still a long rally to go. We’ll see how things shape up here at the end of the week before rest day, and then after rest day, we’ll keep pushing until the end and try to get within striking distance of the podium. It’s going to be tough, we’ve got our work cut out for us, but it can happen.”

In the lightweight division, Seth Quintero, 19, won his second consecutive stage and fourth overall, but the American remained more than 16 hours behind the lead after major mechanical problems in Stage 2.

Here are the stage winners and the top three overall in each category after Day 4:

Car

Stage 4 winner: Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT), Toyota Gazoo Racing, 3:54:40. Overall: 1. Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT), Toyota Gazoo Racing, 13:26:02; 2. Sebastien Loeb (FRA), Bahrain Raid Extreme, 14:04:07; 3. Yazeed Al Rajhi (SAU), Overdrive Toyota, 14:15:17.

Bike

Stage 4 winner: Joan Barreda Bort (ESP), 4:07:06. Overall: 1. Sam Sunderland (GBR), GasGas Factory Racing, 15:30:01; 2. Matthias Walkner (AUS), GasGas Factory Racing, 15:33:01; 3. Adrien Van Beveren (FRA), Monster Energy Yamaha Rally Team, 15:34:55. Other U.S. notables: 8. Skyler Howes, Husqvarna Factory Racing, 15:45:17; 12. Andrew Short, Monster Energy Yamaha Rally Team, 16:08:32; 14. Mason Klein, BAS Dakar KTM Racing Team, 16:10:44; 18. Ricky Brabec, Monster Energy Honda, 16:24:59.

Truck

Stage 4 winner: Eduard Nikolaev (RAF), Kamaz-Master, 4:14:46. Overall: 1. Dmitry Sotnikov (RAF), Kamaz-Master 15:02:53; 2. Eduard Nikolaev (RAF), Kamaz-Master, 15:09:03; 3. Anton Shibalov (RAF), Kamaz-Master, 15:27:58.

Light prototype

Stage 4 winner: Seth Quintero (USA), 4:25:13. Overall: 1. Francisco Lopez Contardo (CHL), EKS — South Racing, 16:08:33; 2. Sebastian Eriksson (SWE), EKS — South Racing, 16:29:32; 3. Fernando Alvarez (ESP), South Racing Can-Am, 18:11:07.

SSV

Stage 4 winner: Rodrigo Luppi De Oliveira (BRA), 4:44:05 . Overall: 1. Austin Jones (USA), Can-Am Factory South Racing, 16:38:08; 2. Rodrigo Luppi De Oliveira (BRA), South Racing Can-Am, 16:43:21; Michal Goczal (POL), 16:54:41.

Quad

Stage 4 winner: Aleksandr Maksimov (RAF), Chyr Mari, 5:10:28. Overall: 1. Pablo Copetti (USA), Del Amo Motorsports/Yamaha Rally Team, 19:25:41; 2. Alexandre Giroud (FRA), Yamaha Racing – SMX -Drag’on, 19:40:01; 3. Aleksandr Maksimov (RAF), Chyr Mari, 19:50:36.

Strong rebounds for Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi amid some disappointments in the Indy 500

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INDIANAPOLIS – Alex Palou had not turned a wheel wrong the entire Month of May at the Indy 500 until Rinus VeeKay turned a wheel into the Chip Ganassi Racing pole-sitter leaving pit road on Lap 94.

“There is nothing I could have done there,” Palou told NBC Sports. “It’s OK, when it is my fault or the team’s fault because everybody makes mistakes. But when there is nothing, you could have done differently there, it feels bad and feels bad for the team.”

Marcus Ericsson was a master at utilizing the “Tail of the Dragon” move that breaks the draft of the car behind him in the closing laps to win last year’s Indianapolis 500. On Sunday, however, the last of three red flags in the final 16 laps of the race had the popular driver from Sweden breathing fire after Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden beat him at his own game on the final lap to win the Indianapolis 500.

Despite the two disappointments, team owner Chip Ganassi was seen on pit road fist-bumping a member on his four-car team in this year’s Indianapolis 500 after his drivers finished second, fourth, sixth and seventh in the tightly contested race.

Those are pretty good results, but at the Indianapolis 500, there is just one winner and 32 losers.

“There is only one winner, but it was a hell of a show,” three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and Chip Ganassi Racing consultant Dario Franchitti told NBC Sports. “Alex was very fast, and he got absolutely caught out in somebody else’s wreck. There was nothing he could have done, but he and the 10 car, great recovery.

“Great recovery by all four cars because at half distance, we were not looking very good.”

After 92 laps, the first caution flew for Sting Ray Robb of Dale Coyne Racing hitting the Turn 1 wall.

During pit stops on Lap 94, Palou had left his stall when the second-place car driven by VeeKay ran into him, putting Palou’s Honda into the wall. The car sustained a damaged front wing, but the Chip Ganassi crew was able to get him back in the race on the lead lap but in 28th position.

Palou ultimately would fight his way to a fourth-place finish in a race the popular Spaniard could have won. His displeasure with VeeKay, whom he sarcastically called “a legend” on his team radio after the incident, was evident.

“The benefit of being on pole is you can drive straight and avoid crashes, and he was able to crash us on the side on pit lane, which is pretty tough to do, but he managed it,” Palou told NBC Sports. “Hopefully next year we are not beside him. Hopefully, next year we have a little better luck.”

Palou started on the pole and led 36 laps, just three fewer than race leader Pato O’Ward of Arrow McLaren Racing.

“We started really well, was managing the fuel as we wanted, our car was pretty good,” Palou said. “Our car wasn’t great, we dropped to P4 or P5, but we still had some good stuff.

“On the pit stop, the 21 (VeeKay) managed to clip us. Nothing we could have done there. It was not my team’s fault or my fault.

“We had to drop to the end. I’m happy we made it back to P4. We needed 50 more laps to make it happen, but it could have been a lot worse after that contact.

“I learned a lot, running up front at the beginning and in mid-pack and then the back. I learned a lot.

“It feels amazing when you win it and not so good when things go wrong. We were a bit lucky with so many restarts at the end to make it back to P4 so I’m happy with that.”

Palou said the front wing had to be changed and the toe-in was a bit off, but he still had a fast car.

In fact, his Honda was the best car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway all month. His pole-winning four lap average speed of 234.217 miles per hour around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a record for this fabled race.

Palou looked good throughout the race, before he had to scratch and claw and race his way back to the top-five after he restarted 28th.

In the Indianapolis 500, however, the best car doesn’t always win.

“It’s two years in a row that we were leading the race at the beginning and had to drop to last,” Palou said. “Maybe next year, we will start in the middle of the field and go on to win the race.

“I know he didn’t do it on purpose. It’s better to let that pass someday.”

Palou said the wild racing at the end was because the downforce package used in Sunday’s race means the drivers have to be aggressive. The front two cars can battle for the victory, but cars back in fourth or fifth place can’t help determine the outcome of the race.

That is when the “Tail of the Dragon” comes into the play.

Franchitti helped celebrate Ericsson’s win in 2022 with his “Tail of the Dragon” zigzag move – something he never had to do in any of his three Indianapolis 500 victories because they all finished under caution.

In 2023, however, IndyCar Race Control wants to make every attempt to finish the race under green, without going past the scheduled distance like NASCAR’s overtime rule.

Instead of extra laps, they stop the race with a red flag, to create a potential green-flag finish condition.

“You do what you have to do to win within the rules, and it’s within the rules, so you do it,” Franchitti said. “The race is 200 laps and there is a balance.

“Marcus did a great job on that restart and so did Josef. It was just the timing of who was where and that was it.

“If you knew it was going to go red, you would have hung back on the lap before.

“Brilliant job by the whole Ganassi organization because it wasn’t looking very good at half-distance.

“Full marks to Josef Newgarden and Team Penske.”

Franchitti is highly impressed by how well Ericsson works with CGR engineer Brad Goldberg and how close this combination came to winning the Indianapolis 500 two-years-in-a-row.

It would have been the first back-to-back Indy 500 winner since Helio Castroneves in 2001 and 2002.

“Oh, he’s a badass,” Franchitti said Ericsson. “He proved it last year. He is so calm all day. What more do you need? As a driver, he’s fast and so calm.”

Ericsson is typically in good spirits and jovial.

He was stern and direct on pit road after the race.

“I did everything right, I did an awesome restart, caught Josef off-guard and pulled away,” Ericsson said on pit lane. “It’s hard to pull away a full lap and he got me back.

“I’m mostly disappointed with the way he ended. I don’t think it was fair and safe to do that restart straight out of the pits on cold tires for everyone.

“To me, it was not a good way to end that race.

“Congrats to Josef. He didn’t do anything wrong. He is a worthy champion, but it shouldn’t have ended like that.”

Palou also didn’t understand the last restart, which was a one-start showdown.

“I know that we want to finish under green,” Palou said. “Maybe the last restart I did, I didn’t understand. It didn’t benefit the CGR team.

“I’m not very supportive of the last one, but anyway.”

Dixon called the red flags “a bit sketchy.”

“The Red Flags have become a theme to the end of the race, but sometimes they can catch you out,” Dixon said. “I know Marcus is frustrated with it.

“All we ask for is consistency. I think they will do better next time.

“It’s a tough race. People will do anything they can to win it and with how these reds fall, you have to be in the right place at the right time. The problem is when they throw a Red or don’t throw a Red dictates how the race will end.

“It’s a bloody hard race to win. Congrats to Josef Newgarden and to Team Penske.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500