AL ULA, Saudi Arabia – France’s Stephane Peterhansel (Mini) was the fastest in a car on Wednesday in the fourth stage of the Dakar Rally, while Chilean motorcyclist Nacho Cornejo posted his first-ever stage victory in the world’s toughest endurance race.
Spaniard Carlos Sainz, Peterhansel’s Mini teammate, maintained the overall lead in the general classification despite coming in third.
Peterhansel finished first with a time of four hours, four minutes and 34 seconds, followed by Qatar’s Nasser al-Attiyah (Toyota), the defending champion, who covered the 672km course in 4:07.00, nearly five minutes faster than Sainz.
“Leading the charge was hard and Carlos lost some time, but he did an amazing job because it didn’t take him long to get back on track. He might be the MVP today,” the Frenchman said afterward in comments published on the Dakar website.
“This new Dakar is brilliant, it has all the ingredients: superb landscapes, tricky navigation and enough difficulties to make a selection. The organizers have been perfect so far,” Peterhansel said.
Sainz lost ground to his closest rival, al-Attiyah, who cut the Spaniard’s lead to three minutes and three seconds.
“We did a great job, but it wasn’t easy,” the Qatari said. “We tried to attack near the end, but it was tricky. I’m happy because it looks like tomorrow there’ll be dunes on the course. We were cautious. I’m happy we didn’t suffer any punctures.”
Spanish racing great Fernando Alonso (Toyota), driving in his first Dakar Rally, failed to follow up on his brilliant performance in the third stage.
The two-time Formula 1 champion didn’t make the top 10 on Wednesday, finishing more than 26 minutes off the pace.
The big drama on Wednesday was provided by the bike competition, as apparent winner Sam Sunderland (KTM) was stripped of the victory after receiving a five-minute penalty for excessive speed in a speed-limited segment of the course.
Cornejo (Honda), who finished only 11 seconds behind the Briton, got the stage win and climbed to third in the general classification behind two other Honda racers, Ricky Brabec of the United States and Argentina’s Kevin Benavides.
Dakar 2020 is being held entirely within Saudi Arabia, with 12 stages from Jeddah to Qiddiya during the period Jan. 5-17.