Stephane Peterhansel says he considers himself “really lucky” to have finished second on Stage 7 of the Dakar Rally after being hamstrung by two different issues.
Peterhansel was fighting for the stage victory with the Overdrive Toyota of Yazeed Al-Rajhi when a wheel rim on his X-raid Mini broke 40km from the finish.
After fixing the problem and resuming the stage, 20km later the French driver felt something “really strange” in the car and it was only after arriving in the bivouac that he discovered the suspension was broken.
Despite the double mechanical problem, the 13-time Dakar winner finished just 48 seconds behind stage winner Al-Rajhi, and crucially ahead of his two main rivals Carlos Sainz Sr and Nasser Al-Attiyah.
Peterhansel, who has held the overall lead since the second stage, admitted that he would have “struggled” to make it to the finish had those issues propped up earlier in the day.
“Today we were really lucky,” Peterhansel told Autosport. “We had two issues that could have cost us a lot. Firstly, we had a big impact with a wheel and we destroyed the rim [40km before the end]. It was not possible to remove the wheel [easily], so we lost five minutes just to remove it.
“Once we fixed the rim we restarted, but 20km before the finish the car felt really strange. We were sliding a lot, so we finished the stage at the speed of a taxi driver.
“Arriving at the bivouac in Sakaka, we realised that the rear [suspension] arm was broken and we need to change it. We had a general look at the car, we started to work on the car waiting for the assistance truck in the race, the T4, with the spare parts. Once the truck arrives, it will take a maximum 30 minutes to fix the problem.
“We were lucky because if it happened 100km before the end, I think we would have struggled to finish. With 20km to the end, on the contrary, we managed to finish.”
Following his sixth finish inside the top-three, Peterhansel extended his lead over Al-Attiyah to 7m53s, gaining exactly two minutes on his Toyota rival, while Sainz slipped 41m06s behind him in the other Mini buggy.
While Peterhansel remains within striking distance for Al-Attiyah, the French driver says he can be relieved that the rally didn’t “take another turn” in the first part of the marathon stage.
“We left Ha’il, we were leading the overall with a six-minute gap on Nasser, and today less than eight minutes, so we are still in front,” Peterhansel said.
“We are very confident because the gap is not big, but it is still a gap. We are a bit frustrated for what happened, but honestly the relief is bigger because if the damage was bigger the race could take another turn.”
Peterhansel, Al-Attiyah and Sainz have dominated Dakar for more than a decade, having won all but two editions of the event between them since it moved away from its African-European roots in 2009.
Asked why they have been so far ahead of their rivals in recent years, Peterhansel, who has added seven wins to his tally since switching to cars in 1999, said: “The three of us share the same mentality, the same determination.
“In a way it is not normal that there aren’t new drivers able to challenge us. Maybe it is the kind of discipline, but honestly, I don’t see it as normal. As we get older, also the physics responds differently, but we are still here, chasing the win.”