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KENDERLY (KAZAKHSTAN): Four Minis dominated the classification after the opening 280.35km of competitive action in Rally Kazakhstan, round five of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies, between Aktau City and the Caspian Sea resort of Kenderly on Monday.

The victories achieved by Kevin Benavides in the bike race, Ignacio Casale in the quad category, Giniel de Villiers in the car race and Ton van Genugten in the truck category did not affect the positions at the top of the rally’s hierarchy. Matthias Walkner became the first Austrian winner on a bike, with Austrian brand KTM continuing to dominate the event thanks to a 17th consecutive success. For its last participation, Peugeot also retained the title, but this time only one of their cars was on the podium, namely the 3008 Maxi driven by winner Carlos Sainz. Under threat until the day before the finish from Federico Villagra, in the end Eduard Nikolaev obtained a third title behind the wheel of his Kamaz. As for Chilean Ignacio Casale, to win his 2nd Dakar he dominated the general standings from start to finish.

This was the last genuine opportunity to make the difference and gain a place in the general standings for the competitors. They had to be watchful on the first part of the special in which the dunes of San Juan had pride of place as well as a section of fesh-fesh that can cause major damage to racing hopes. The quick tracks at the end of the special suited WRC experts down to the ground, but there was always the danger of getting carried away with speed and making a mistake the day before the finish…

The arrival in the region of San Juan was by no means a soft landing, because the competitors had to tackle the longest special of the rally, totalling 523 km. It was a mixture of sand, fast tracks and bumpy rocky sections that severely tested the riders’ and drivers’ capacities with the tiredness of the last 12 days starting to take its toll. Weather and safety problems forced the organisers to cancel the stage for the bike and quad categories

This was the third year running that the rally featured a mixed start, meaning that cars, motorbikes and quads took turns to start based on their times in the previous stage. La Rioja province, the only region that has featured in every Dakar since the rally came to South America, is also the scene of the second motorbike marathon stage. The stars of the Dakar will have to take care of their machines on their own after another taxing day.

The Dakar contested its first stage in Argentina this year and also encountered much warmer temperatures than in recent days, with almost 40°C in the shade. The danger was that this could tire the competitors on the vast sandy terrain covering the first part of the special and then perhaps rob them of their lucidity when tackling the last part, in which tricky navigation through river beds had pride of place…

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