Jan 10 (Reuters) – Frenchman Stephane Peterhansel extended his Dakar lead to nearly eight minutes in Saudi Arabia on Sunday as the rally mourned the passing of former champion Hubert Auriol, the first to win on both two wheels and four.
Organisers said former race director Auriol, who triumphed on a motorcycle in 1981 and 1983 and in the car category in 1992 when the rally was held in Africa, had died after a long illness. He was 68.
Peterhansel, winner of the gruelling event a record 13 times with six of those victories on a motorcycle before switching to cars, finished the 453km seventh stage from Ha’il to Sakaka in second place.
Toyota’s Saudi driver Yazeed Al Rajhi won the stage.
“In the last 40km we had a big impact on the rock and we destroyed the rim. It was really complicated to remove the wheel because it was blocked on the caliper.” said Peterhansel.
“Normally we take two or three minutes but I think we stopped seven or eight minutes.”
Stage seven was the first part of a two-day marathon stage, with competitors having to get through it without external assistance.
Closest rival Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar was fourth fastest for the works Toyota team, and seven minutes and 53 seconds behind overall with five stages remaining, after suffering a flat tyre.
“After that we needed to really take care of the car and not damage anything,” he said.
Defending champion Carlos Sainz, Peterhansel’s X-Raid Mini JCW team mate, was third on the stage and third overall with 41 minutes to make up.
In the motorcycle category, defending champion Ricky Brabec won the stage but was eighth overall and 15 minutes behind Honda team mate and new leader Jose Ignacio Cornejo.
Australian Toby Price was only a second behind Chilean Cornejo overall, with Britain’s Sam Sunderland, also on a KTM, third. (Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Pritha Sarkar)
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