Paris – Nasser Al Attiyah stretched his Dakar Rally lead to 48 minute on Friday with Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al Rajhi replacing Sebastien Loeb as the Qatari’s closet rival in the car category.
The seventh stage around the Saudi capital Riyadh, with the event under heightened security after an explosion in Jeddah last week, was won by Loeb’s Bahrain Raid Xtreme team mate Orlando Terranova of Argentina.
Audi’s Mattias Ekstroem was second and Al Rajhi third for the Overdrive Toyota team.
Factory Toyota driver Al Attiyah finished 10th in the stage and was 48 minutes and 54 seconds clear of Al Rajhi, who was in turn a minute and a half clear of nine times world rally champion Loeb.
‘We are quite happy to have finished the first week of the Dakar with a good lead’, said triple champion Al Attiyah.
‘The car is working very well. This is the Dakar and we will try to manage next week without the risks’.
The motorcycles stage was halted at the 101 km mark due to heavy rain and the deterioration of tracks after the cars and trucks went through on Tursday.
Britain’s Sam Sunderland retained the overall lead after finishing second to his Australian GasGas team mate Daniel Sanders.
Sanders moved up to third place overall, with Austrian Matthias Walkner second and two minutes and 39 seconds behind Sunderland.
Saturday is a rest day in the gruelling endurance event which finishes in Jeddah on Jan.14.
The rally has come under increasing scrutiny after an explosion hit a French vehicle involved in the event that started on Jan.1 in the Red Sea port city.
French Foreign Minister Jean – Yves Le Drain said on Friday it may have been a terrorist back and urged Saudi Arabia to be transparent on the matter.
Dakar director David Castera ruled out halting the event, telling Franceinfo radio that ‘the question is not being raised at the moment’ and sufficient safety measures had been put in place.
‘We reinforced the security thanks to the Saudi authorities, you can see it on the bivouac, and also outside the bivouac, on the departures and arrivals of competitors, to maintain a high security level’, he said.