LA SERENA, Chile (AP) — Stephane Peterhansel won the last major sandy stage of the Dakar Rally and overtook Mini teammate Nani Roma on Friday to lead by 26 seconds going into the final day.
The race's outcome appeared to be settled on Thursday, when the four Mini drivers leading the standings were instructed by their team to hold their positions, thereby setting up Roma to win the Dakar's car division 10 years after the Spaniard won the motorbike title when the rally was in North Africa.
Now Peterhansel, the most successful driver in Dakar history, could win the world's toughest rally for a 12th time.
The remarkable pace of the four down Chile's Pacific coastline made the team fear a crash would ruin their chance of a podium sweep. The drivers followed orders on Thursday but attacked the 350-kilometer 12th stage from El Salvador to the Copiapo dunes on Friday, and left the title up for grabs on the rally's shortest leg, the 157-kilometer ride to the finish at Valparaiso on Saturday.
Roma, holding a measly five-minute lead, had a puncture early and was soon overtaken by teammates Peterhansel and Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar.
Roma also got stuck on a dune but again reeled in Peterhansel and Al-Attiyah. Peterhansel offered to let Roma pass, but Roma stayed back, even when Peterhansel was ahead on overall time with 30 kilometers to go.
"I stopped on the dunes to show him that if he wanted to he could go past, but he didn't want to open the way on the dunes," Peterhansel said. "So I opened on the dunes and finished very calmly."
Roma finally passed Peterhansel just 500 meters from the finish but Peterhansel, taking advantage of a navigation error by Al-Attiyah, won his third stage of the race, extending his Dakar record to 65. After lying second to Roma for a week, he has the overall lead for the first time since the second stage. But at 26 seconds, it was a mere eye blink in racing terms.