Sainz, Coma secure Spanish rule in Dakar stretch

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

CALAMA - Driver Carlos Sainz and motorcyclist Marc Coma consolidated Wednesday Spanish rule over the Dakar Rally as the prestigious offroad race moved across a 4,800-m stretch of the Andes from Argentina into Chile.

Titleholder Sainz won the fourth stage to reaffirm himself atop the overall table, with a growing, 4.24-minute lead over his Volkswagen team-mate Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar.

Coma also won the stage Wednesday, and that allowed him to climb past French titleholder Cyril Despres to the top of the table. The competition between them promises to be tight: Coma, who won the Dakar Rally in 2006 and 2009, and Despres, who won the race in 2005 and 2007 as well as last year, are only 2 seconds apart.

“It’s a superb battle with Marc,” Despres admitted.

Coma was equally pleased, although he remained cautious, aware as he is that the Dakar Rally is unpredictable in many ways.

“The general standings don’t matter for the moment. The most important thing will be the last day,” Coma stressed, in comments posted on the Dakar Rally website.

The fourth stage of the race, between the Argentine city of San Salvador de Jujuy and the Chilean city of Calama, covered 761 km, including a 207-km timed special. Participants crossed the Andes and went up to an altitude of 4,800 metres above sea level.

“The arrival in Chile also heralds the entrance to the Atacama Desert and the first off-track racing of the rally,” the rally website had warned in advance.

Sainz looked forward to the coming desert stages, which many herald as potentially decisive for the overall race standings.

“I think that it will be tomorrow when things will get serious,” Sainz said.

The rally began Saturday with a so-called liaison stage starting in Buenos Aires. The race is being staged in Argentina and Chile for the third consecutive year, after security problems drove it out of its original location in Africa.

The Dakar Rally, traversing more than 9,500 km including 5,000 km of timed specials, is scheduled to end January 15 in the Argentine capital, where winners are to be celebrated a day later.

This edition, like its predecessors, will feature key stages in northern Chile’s challenging Atacama Desert.

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