Saturday, September 19

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Al-Attiyah takes Dakar charge as death probe continues

LA RIOJA, Argentina: Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah seized control of the Dakar Rally on Sunday as an investigation into the horror crash which claimed the life of a 28-year-old spectator continued.

GETTING THEIR MONEY’S WORTH: Mexico’s Octavio Valle falls from his Honda during the second stage of the Dakar 2010, between Cordoba and La Rioja. France’s David Fretigne won the stage, compatriot David Casteu took second place while Spain’s Marc Coma finished third. — AFP photo

GETTING THEIR MONEY’S WORTH: Mexico’s Octavio Valle falls from his Honda during the second stage of the Dakar 2010, between Cordoba and La Rioja. France’s David Fretigne won the stage, compatriot David Casteu took second place while Spain’s Marc Coma finished third. — AFP photo

Al-Attiyah, driving a Volkswagen, won the second stage, a 355km timed run from Cordoba, to take a 1min 19sec overall lead over teammate Carlos Sainz of Spain who was fourth on the day.

It was an early 2010 boost for the Qatari driver whose 2009 race ended in controversy when he was disqualified while leading the race.

France’s Guerlin Chicherit, in a BMW, was second on the stage followed by three more Volkswagen drivers – Carlos Neves, Sainz and Mark Miller.

Six-time motorcycle winner and three-time auto champion Stephane Peterhansel of France, in a BMW, was sixth on the day and is third overall.

Spain’s Nani Roma, in a BMW, who won Saturday’s opening stage, lost 15 minutes on Sunday after suffering a double-roll and finished in 18th spot to be in eighth place overall.

“We caught up with Stephane after 150km. We kept a modest pace for a while then it became very technical. That’s where we attacked before ending up in Carlos’ dust,” said Al-Attiyah.

“From then on we kept up a good rhythm. Everything is going great. The conditions were pretty difficult – there was rain, fog, a bit of everything.”

France’s David Fretigne on a Yamaha won the motorcycling stage while compatriot David Casteu of Sherco retained the overall lead after coming in second, 43 seconds adrift.

Spain’s Marc Coma, the 2006 and 2009 winner, finished third but was then penalised 22 minutes for speeding, a sanction which relegated him to 14th overall.

“It was a really tough special stage, very technical,” said Casteau.

“The trail was very slippery and there are animals everywhere. I even crossed path with two cars going in the opposite direction.”

Meanwhile, Germany’s Mirco Schultis and Swiss teammate Ulrich Leardi, whose car accidentally ploughed into a group of spectators, killing a female fan, didn’t start Sunday’s second stage.

The duo’s 4×4 vehicle came off the track and smashed into the spectators who are believed to have strayed from a designated safe-viewing area near the town of Rio Cuarto, around 800km from Buenos Aires on Saturday.

Sonia Natalia Gallardo, 28, who suffered serious head, pelvic and stomach injuries in the incident, died in a Cordoba hospital while four others were hurt.

Schultis and Leardi hit a group of fans who “were in a non-authorised sector, a private area”, said Julio Cesar Berrocal, the Cordoba police chief.

“Three vehicles came around a corner and two of them tried to get round. But the dust cloud kicked up by them prevented the third (Schultis and Leardi’s 4×4) from seeing clearly and they came off the track.”

After the three deaths in 2009, which involved French motorcyclist Pascal Terry and two lorry staff, extra security measures were introduced for 2010.

Five ‘public zones’ were set-up along the route of the first stage which were planned to provide a safe viewing area for spectators.

In all, there are 57 such areas set aside on the event’s 14 stages. — AFP