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Monday January 21, 2013

French delight Peterhansel and Despres retain Dakar Rally titles

SANTIAGO: Stephane Peterhansel claimed a record fifth Dakar Rally drivers’ title on Saturday, and 11th overall of his career, while French compatriot Cyril Despres captured a fifth motorcycling crown.

Peterhansel, the champion on four wheels in 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2012, as well as being a motorcycle winner on six other occasions, beat Ari Vatanen’s 25-year-old record of four auto titles on the gruelling endurance event.

“It’s a special moment – 15 days of racing full of emotions and ten-sion and, now, the pressure vanishes all of a sudden,” said Peterhansel, who was the favourite once former winners Carlos Sainz and Nasser al-Attiyah were forced to retire.

“This is the first time since I started racing in cars that we’ve finished a race without a single mechanical problem. This is the best car I’ve ever driven.

“It wasn’t an easy victory, because we knew the buggies (of Sainz and Al-Attiyah) would be fast. But this situation enabled me to focus from the start of the race. I attacked to open up a gap between me and my rivals.”

Spain’s Nani Roma claimed the event’s last stage, and his fourth in 2013, as the 8,000km race ended with a 150km timed run into Santiago.

Peterhansel, taking part in his 25th Dakar, eased through the final stage to take overall victory by 42:22 over South Africa’s Giniel de Villiers in a Toyota.

Russian Leonid Novitskiy was third, 1’28:22 behind his Mini teammate Peterhansel.

Despres, riding a KTM, added the 2013 title to his wins in 2005, 2007, 2010 and 2012.

Portugal’s Ruben Faria claimed second place, 10:43 off his teammate’s pace, with Chilean rider Francisco Lopez, on another KTM, in third, 18:48 behind the leader.

“It’s true that I needed to cross the line and see all these pictures and people here to know that no-one can take this win from me,” said Despres, who was 17th on the concluding stage.

“The day when winning the Dakar becomes easy, it won’t be interesting any more. And this day is still far off.

“It’s too long, it’s too tough, it’s too hot, it’s too cold, you’ve got to rise early in the morning, you’ve got to find your way out of the dune mazes in Peru and Chile, you’ve got to tackle the stones and cactuses on the courses near Cordoba.

“It’s just too tricky for it to be easy to win. And it’s even better when you win a difficult race.” – AFP

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