The Stage 9 kicked off with a mass-start format (four cars on the start line). The penultimate stage was a 409 km loop around Pisco and it explored the dangerous Ica dunes which turned out to be too hot to handle for many competitors. But not for Nasser Al-Attiyah who bagged his third stage win this year. The dune-specialist has now established a lead of 51 minutes before heading into the final stage and is confident of winning the Dakar trophy. This will be the first ever Dakar title for Toyota.
Nani Roma – who comfortably crossed the line in second place just under five minutes behind Attiyah – was quick to appreciate his co-driver Alex Bravo who completed the entire stage with two broken ribs. Giniel De Villiers finished third at 7 minutes and 15 seconds adrift of his Toyota teammate.
Attiyah, Loeb, Przygonski and De Villiers were the first to start the stage, and among the three, Loeb was the slowest off the line. However, the Frenchman was looking for another stage win being more than 10 minutes ahead of Attiyah at the final waypoint. But the WRC champion lost more than an hour due to transmission failure and finished 17th at the end of the demanding stage. Loeb – a privateer with PH Peugeot this year – is now third in the general classification behind Attiyah and Roma.
The second round of quartet included Peterhansel, Roma, Prokop and Al-Rajhi. Interestingly, Al-Rajhi got stuck in the sand even before the start. Defending champion, Carlos Sainz had a delayed start due to steering repairs; but for Toyota’s Bernard Brinke, it was the end of the road as his car was unfit to start the stage. Sainz finished 22nd in the ninth stage. Cyril Despres looked to be a strong contender for his first stage win of the season after Loeb's delay. The five-time bike champion was marginally ahead of Al-Attiyah at the final waypoint but rolled his Mini buggy in the dunes just over 20 km ahead of the finish line.
On the other hand, the Dakar came to a miserable end for 13-time winner Peterhansel. Just 26 km into the stage, co-driver David Castera suffered from a back injury and had to be transported to the hospital in Lima.
For the final stage, the Qatari driver now just needs to continue his cool-headed performance to win the championship. Without a stage win but consistent performance, X-Raid’s Nani Roma looks to be a certainty for the second place in overall finish. And although there is a considerable gap, Loeb appears to be on course for a podium finish in the 2019 Dakar Rally.