Posted on January 15, 2018

It was back to earth with a bump at the 2018 Dakar Rally as racing recommenced after the Rest Day in La Paz. 727 kilometres had to be negotiated on the way to Uyuni, with over half of that distance against the clock. Compounding the difficulty was stage seven being the first half of a marathon stage meaning competitors can receive no outside assistance until the end of tomorrow’s racing.

One of the hardest things you can do at the Dakar is win a stage when you’re the first of your category on the road, but that’s just what Carlos Sainz (ESP) did today. The 2010 Dakar winner backed up his stage six win by setting today’s fastest time and now holds the overall lead. “Actually it was quite difficult with lots of off-piste at the start of the day. After that came some good roads and I was able to push a little bit more. We had no problems today. We’re all in survival mode now with such a long way to go because anything can still happen at this race.” – Carlos Sainz.

It was not just Sainz’s speed that propelled him into first place but also problems encountered by his Peugeot team-mate Stéphane Peterhansel (FRA). 13-time Dakar winner Peterhansel was stuck for nearly two hours on the stage due to a suspension issue. The trouble began when the Frenchman hit a rock while overtaking a quad biker. Peterhansel eventually got on the move again after fellow Team Peugeot Total driver Cyril Despres (FRA) stopped to help out. Peterhansel ends stage seven in third place overall, 1h20m46s behind Sainz, after battling back to the Uyuni bivaouc.

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“I came out of the tracks a little bit and I didn’t even see the rock; I just felt the impact. It destroyed the whole rear of the car: shock absorbers, suspension, transmission, the lot. There’s still a lot to do tonight: the car isn’t what it was. We cannibalised Cyril’s car and left him there; we were about 1h50m fixing it. We’ve got no physical damage to ourselves and we feel fine. It’s just our morale that’s been hurt.” – Stéphane Peterhansel.

Moving up the general classification as a consequence of Peterhansel’s misfortune is Toyota Gazoo Racing SA driver Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT). Qatar’s Al-Attiyah is now in second spot, 1h11m29s behind Sainz while his Toyota team-mate Giniel De Villiers (FRA) is in fourth overall a further nine minutes back. With just 15 minutes seperating Al-Attiyah in second and Bernard Ten Brinke (NLD) in fifth we can expected plenty more movement on the leaderboard in the week ahead. “I've never lived a Dakar like this… We are crazy! But I'm happy to bring the Toyota here, I'm quite happy. There's still seven days of racing left. It's a marathon stage, so we need to work on the car ourselves. We just need to change the tyres.” – Nasser Al-Attiyah

Kuba Przygonski's (POL) best Dakar finish in the bike race was 6th in 2014 and last year he finished 7th in the car race. Przygonski is now 6th in car category general classification, on course to match his best ever Dakar finish. “I think our car is good and we won’t need to do too much it tonight. There was a lot of water on the stage so we’ll make sure that all of this is emptied out of the car before we start again tomorrow.” – Kuba Przygonski. The bike race is witnessing a comeback from Joan Barreda (ESP) who won today’s stage with an all-in display. Bike race leader Adrien Van Beveren (FRA) was also on form as he took over top spot from Kevin Benavides (ARG). The big question to be resolved overnight is whether or not Barreda can continue after injuring his knee in a crash towards the end of the stage.

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2016 Dakar winner Toby Price (AUS) stayed with the front runners on stage seven to move to fifth overall, one place behind fellow Red Bull KTM Factory Team rider Matthias Walkner (AUT). “There were some tricky bits of navigation in there but we just took our time and made sure we got through. There was plenty of mud at the beginning and then some more water holes near the end. Now we’ll get the mud washed off and get the bike cleaned up for tomorrow.” – Toby Price. There was also a pair of solid rides from KTM bikers Antoine Méo (FRA) and Laia Sanz (ESP). Méo is consolidating his place in the Top 10 and rode a clean first half of the marathon stage along with team-mate Sanz. “At the start it was really tricky to find the way. Later in the stage I was riding with Toby and this was good. It was raining and we were both pushing at the maximum. We managed to find the right balance between speed and staying safe.” – Antoine Méo.

Quad race leader Ignacio Casale (CHI) managed to defend his position today with another tactical ride and fourth place on the stage. The Chilean actually managed to extend his lead over his nearest rival Alexis Hernandez (PER) by over 10 minutes to put the overall advantage at over an hour. “This was a really tough day. It was one of the most physically demanding stages we have had so far. The altitude has been getting to me a lot. I’m here, I’m a bit tired but after a good night’s sleep I’ll be ready to go again tomorrow.” – Ignacio Casale

Trucker Eduard Nikolaev (RUS) followed Casale’s lead and held onto top spot in his category. As the second week of the Dakar gets underway Nikolaev looks to be in an ever increasingly strong position with three team-mates all well-placed to help out should trouble strike. Tonight’s marathon stage bivouac in Uyuni is awash with the true spirit of the Dakar Rally. With no team mechanics allowed to work on the vehicles it’s done to the skills of the competitors themselves to fix any issues that arose on stage seven. This is sure to have a bearing on tomorrow’s monster 498-kilometre timed special stage en route to Tupiza.

The 40th edition of the Dakar Rally takes place from January 6 until January 20. Watch daily updates of all the action from South America at