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Al-Attiyah Closes In On Dakar Rally Championship

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, January 17 2015

Robby Gordon recorded another top-10 hit on Friday.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Now it can be told. Nasser Al-Attiyah’s methodical march to what will be his second Dakar Rally championship on Saturday has been inspired by a simmering, year-old failure.

Al-Attiyah, of Qatar, posted a fourth-place result during Stage 12 of the 37th annual Dakar on Friday to extend his overall lead to 35 minutes, 39 seconds over Giniel de Villiers of South Africa. The opening 726-kilometer/451-mile stretch from Termas de Rio to Rosario, Argentina, was followed by another short, 298-kilometer/185-mile timed stretch won by Orlando Terranova of the host country.

Saturday’s 175-kilometer special back to Buenos Aires is all that separates Al-Attiyah, the 2011 Dakar champion, from overall victory in his No. 301 Red Bull Mini.

“I’ve worked a lot since last year because last year, I was disappointed with the one-hour penalty,” said Al-Attiyah, referring to a critical timed infraction served-up by rally officials during Stage 5 of the 2014 event.

Both Al-Attiyah and Carlos Sainz, a former World Rally champion, were slapped with one-hour penalties for missing one of the way-points en route to the control points. The penalty dropped Al-Attiyah to fifth in the overall standings, 1 hour, 26 minutes off the pace of eventual winner Nani Roma of Spain.

“I should have won the Dakar,” Al-Attiyah told NBCSports.com on Friday. “I’m quite happy to work all year towards this victory on the Dakar 2015. Of course, we’ve got a lot more experience since 2011 and I have a good co-pilot (Mathieu Baumel) with me now who helps me a lot. We have a good relationship. The mechanics have been working very, very well.

“Every day, the car is working well, the tires, we don’t have any problems at all. Everything is working 100 percent right for this Dakar. I’m not stressed (for Saturday’s finale). If I wake up in good health, I will do my best.”

Argentina’s Terranova and co-driver Ronnie Graue prevailed in 3 hours, 4 minutes and 6 seconds. Terranova’s fourth stage win saw him outdistance Vladimir Vasilyev by 30 seconds; it was the fifth time in the last six stages that Terranova had finished as either winner or runnerup.

“By the end, we had caught up with Al-Attiyah and ended up in the dust,” Terranova said. “When we came to the finish, there were a lot of people by the road and it was very nice.”

Meanwhile, Americans Robby Gordon and navigator Johnny Campbell moved closer to completing the 2015 rally after a ninth-place finishing time of 3 hours, 9 minutes and 26 seconds. That time was 5 minutes, 20 seconds behind Terranova’s.

Gordon’s run was largely uneventful, in contrast to Thursday’s hard contact with a dirt embankment that temporarily stopped the team’s orange No. 308 HST Gordini in its tracks. Following the crash, Gordon and Campbell almost immediately restarted the Chevrolet V8 in their Traxxas/Toyo Tires Gordini and completed the stage in a respectable 13th.

Gordon’s desire to press-on-regardless stems from his failure to win a stage in 2014 and a dismal 44th-place overall result. Gordon was forced to retire from the race two days from the end.

Gordon remained 19th in the overall standings – a massive 7 hours, 48 minutes and 19 seconds behind Al-Attiyah – with only one stage remaining on the return road to Buenos Aires. Gordon’s original goal of trying to become the first American to win the Dakar Rally fell by the wayside in the Atacama Desert at the end of the first week.

Still, Gordon has posted six top-10s in this edition and five in the last eight stages. Competing in his 11th Dakar, Gordon remains committed to winning at least one stage of the world’s premier off-road race. Gordon has accumulated 11 Dakar stage victories, including his first attempt in a Volkswagen Race Touareg in 2005, becoming the first American to do so. In his previous 10 Dakar starts, Gordon has finished in the top-15 five times.

Saturday’s final stage will be shortest of the 13 comprising the 9,111-kilometer/5,661-mile event. The trek will cover 393-kilometers/244-miles, of which only 174-kilometers/108-miles will be timed en route to a huge celebration planned in Argentina’s capital city. Rally officials anticipate several hundred thousand spectators awaiting the drivers’ return.

Fans can follow the Dakar Rally via live timing and scoring as well as live updates at www.planetrobby.com. NBCSN’s Dakar coverage will feature Stage 12 highlights Saturday at 6 a.m. (EST).

2015 Dakar Rally Overall Standings/Car Class (Through Stage 12)

1. (301) Nasser Al-Attiyah (Mini), 40 hours, 18 minutes, 30 seconds; 2. (303) Giniel de Villiers (Toyota), plus-35 mins, 39 secs; 3. (307) Krzysztof Holowczyc (Mini), plus-1 hr, 31 mins, 51 secs; 4. (314) Erik Van Loon (Mini), plus-3 hrs, 1 mins, 34 secs; 5. (310) Vladimir Vasilyev (Mini), plus-3 hrs, 12 mins, 19 secs; 6. (309) Christian Lavieille (Toyota), plus-3 hrs, 15 mins, 16 secs; 7. (315) Bernhard Ten Brinke (Toyota), plus-3 hrs, 41 mins, 53 secs; 8. (306) Carlos Sousa (Mitsubishi), plus-3 hrs, 44 mins, 35 secs; 9. (329)Aidyn Rakhimbayev (Mini), plus-4 hrs, 7 mins, 47 secs; 10. (302) Ronan Chabot (SMG), plus-4 hrs, 41 mins, 37 secs; 19. (308) Robby Gordon (HST Gordini), plus-7 hrs, 48 mins, 19 secs.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, January 17 2015
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