EL SALVADOR: Nani Roma of Spain looks set to win the Dakar Rally after his X-raid team bosses told all four of their leading cars to freeze their positions to the finish on Saturday.
The race was set up for a thrilling finish as two-time defending champion Stephane Peterhansel of France slashed Roma´s overall lead from 39 minutes last Thursday to just two minutes entering the marathon 11th stage through the Atacama Desert on Thursday.
But Peterhansel and third-place Nasser Al-Attiyah, the 2011 champ, confirmed on arrival in El Salvador that X-raid told them to ease off and hold their positions.
X-raid drivers fill the top four — Orlando Terranova of Argentina, the stage winner on Thursday, was fourth — and seven of the top 10. “The game is over. Yesterday evening, the team asked us to not take any more risks,” Peterhansel said. “It´s a bit frustrating because we´ve done most of the hard work. But, if Mini wants to have three cars on the podium, at the speed at which we are driving out in front, it´s easy to crash a car or even two in just one day. We know that this (freezing the positions) can happen, but I didn´t think that they would do it.”
Roma denied there were any team orders. Al-Attiyah led for much of the 605-kilometer leg, until with about 70 kilometers to go he hit a stone and was delayed for 20 minutes.
Terranova came through for his second stage win of the race, 11 minutes ahead of Roma.
Giniel de Villiers of South Africa, the runner-up last year, was third despite three punctures, and fifth overall and 20 minutes off a podium place.
Peterhansel was fourth. Roma ended five successive stages of losing time to Peterhansel by increasing his overall lead to more than five minutes, which would hardly be anything in terms of the race if the leaders were racing.
Al-Attiyah was 56 minutes back in third.
The motorbike race was virtually over with Marc Coma winning his third stage to extend his overall lead to 52 minutes over Joan Barreda Bort, who broke his navigation system in a crash and rode the last half relying on trails.
A third Spaniard, Jordi Viladoms, was fourth on the stage, and third overall, more than two hours off the pace.Coma, who fell early, and titleholder Cyril Despres led throughout the stage.
Despres, out of the running for more than a week, still holds hope of making the podium, being 24 minutes off third place.
He has one more challenging stage left to make a move, the 350-kilometer 12th through more dunes and desert south to La Serena. (AP)