Dakar Rally 2023, Stage 6: Peterhansel, Sainz crash on a devastating day for Team Audi

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A Dakar Rally legend was eliminated during a crash-marred Friday that effectively knocked out Team Audi in Stage 6 of the 2023 event.

Stephane Peterhansel, the 14-time champion who had been running second though five stages, crashed at the 200-kilometer mark and had to abandon his No. 204 RS Q e-tron E2. The Frenchman was OK, but his co-driver Edouard Boulanger was transported to a local hospital for further examination after the Dakar Rally medical team found him suffering from back pain.

In a devastating turn of events for the Audis, teammate Carlos Sainz closely was following Peterhansel and wrecked in the same spot. The Spaniard lost massive time trying to repair the car and is out of contention for his fourth Dakar Rally championship.

Peterhansel said he briefly was knocked out after the crash.

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Stephane Peterhansel speaks with Dakar Rally medical staff after a crash during Stage 6 (Franck Fife/AFP via Getty Images).

“I have no memory of having jumped the dune,” he said. “I have no memory of switching off the car. When I came around, Edouard was not in the car. He was lying in front of it. There you go, it’s the danger of off-piste. We fell into that trap. We had a fast pace because we were catching cars in the dunes. Feeling really good. We wanted to make up some time on (leader) Nasser (Al-Attiyah) but too fast.”

Said Sainz: “Stephane caught up with us right before the checkpoint. I was right behind him following close. The next thing I saw was his car flying and then me flying after him and landing. We’ve broken the suspension, and Edouard has damaged his back.”

It wasn’t immediately clear if Sainz would be able to continue, but the three-time champion assuredly has no shot at the overall.

Audi’s last remaining hope is Mattias Ekstrom, who was in fifth overall (1:46:55 behind Al-Attiyah) after a sixth in Stage 6.

The crashes marked the latest twists in an eventful Dakar Rally for Audi, which rolled out its new electric hybrid in last year’s event.

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After struggling in its 2022 debut, the RS Q e-tron E2 seemed to have turned the corner this year after dominating the prologue and winning two of the first five stages. Audis also were granted an unusual power advantage by an FIA rule change after Stage 4.

That advantage angered defending car champion Nasser Al-Attiyah, who sarcastically thanked the FIA for “killing the race.”

But now it seems the race indeed could be over — in Al-Attiyah’s favor.

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Team Audi drivers Stephane Peterhansel and Carlos Sainz commiserate after crashing during Stage 6 (Franck Fife/AFP via Getty Images).

Benefiting from the Audis’ misfortune, the Toyota Gazoo Racing driver won his second consecutive stage Friday and widened his overall lead to more than an hour with eight stages remaining.

Before the shunt that knocked him out of his 35th Dakar Rally, Peterhansel had been in second overall, trailing Al-Attiyah by 22 minutes, 36 seconds.

The biggest threat now to Al-Attiyah winning a fifth Dakar title is rally legend Sebastien Loeb, who finished second in Stage 6 but still is nearly two hours behind the over leader after an earlier crash.

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“It was a very tough stage, not easy,” Al-Attiyah said after winning Friday by 3 minutes, 29 seconds. “We really pushed a lot, but for the last 40 kilometers, we broke the steering pump, so we didn’t have any steering. We had a lot of oil coming out, but we’ll try to repair it now and then we’ll go to Riyadh.”

Loeb, whose car also benefited from the 11-horsepower gain by the FIA rule change, is ranked sixth overall for Bahrain Raid Xtreme.

“It was a clean stage for us,” Loeb said. “We lost a little bit of time on some waypoints, but not too much, just like 2 or 3 minutes. When you see what happened on the stage, I think in the end that we did a good stage with second time overall. It was better than the previous ones and I think we’ve made a good step in the general rankings, so that’s not too bad.

“We suffered a lot thse last few days with different problems every day. Things seem to be turning. Others suffered today. We managed a good leap in the overall, so it’s pretty good.”

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In the bikes category, Skyler Howes increased his overall lead with a second place in Stage 6, 56 seconds behind winner (and Husqvarna Facory Racing teammate) Luciano Benavides. The St. George, Utah, native leads two-time Dakar champion Toby Price by 3 minutes, 31 seconds overall.

“The only thing on my mind today was to go as fast as possible,” Howes said. ” As soon as we hit the dunes, we were going in a super good direction, so you can kind of jump them. It was a really fun stage and the dunes were wet still, so you got a lot of traction through them. They were really consistent too. A lot of the times you could jump them. I got caught out a couple of times and jumped into some pretty big compressions, so that slowed me down a bit

“It was a really fun special with a lot of dunes, but they were really nice to ride and the tracks in between were really fun. The wetter sand helps get more traction, but it is more difficult when you have lots of lines in front of you because they leave deep ruts so it’s very easy to get crossed up. You more or less have to choose your own line and things like this. Otherwise, it’s nice to have wet dirt. There will be a lot of time on the seat on the two next days and on link routes to get to the next bivouacs. But I’ll be using the same mentality as always, just doing the best I can every single day,”

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Mason Klein fell to seventh overall after the American finished 12th in the stage.

“It was a really difficult day for me,” said Klein, a 21-year-old making his second Dakar Rally start. “It was cold, and I struggled in the dunes. I fell twice. It’s the first time I’ve fallen since the start of the rally. It hurt bad. This special was horrible. From now on, I’m going to try and do my best taking it as easy as possible.”

After Stage 6 had ended, the Dakar Rally announced the cancellation of the Stage 7 special for bikes because of worsening weather and tired riders. While bikes and quads will head directly to Al Duwadimi on the road section Saturday, cars and trucks will contest Stage 7 as scheduled.

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In T3 light prototype, Guillaume De Mevius won Stage 6 to extend his lead over American podium finishers Austin “A.J.” Jones (second) and Seth Quintero (third).

“It was fun; we just followed Guillaume after we got passed,” Jones said. “Not too eventful. Some really rough dunes, smashing our head around. We’re here, and the car is all good.”

Quintero tried to make a charge in the final 50 kilometers but “a pretty big mistake” on navigation cost time.

“Completely my fault,” the Southern California native said. “I ended up on a plateau and was trying to get down to a valley. Bummer deal there. Had to go back to a waypoint and had a puncture with 6 to 7 kilometers to go. I don’t think today was our day but we’re still in the rally and got a smile on my face and go after it tomorrow.”

Mitch Guthrie rebounded for a fifth after a disastrous fifth stage for the Red Bull Off Road Junior Team driver. The American is ranked 31st overall in T3.

“Good day; we did all right after the issues yesterday,” Guthrie said. “Just to get back in the groove of things. I’m happy to get back to the finish line today.”

NBC Sports’ daily 6:30 p.m. ET coverage of the 2023 Dakar Rally will continue tonight on Peacock’s NBC Sports channel.

NEXT: Stage 7 of the  2023 Dakar Rally originally was scheduled as a 641-kilometer loop stage around Al Duwadimi, traveling across undulating terrain and sandy plateaus. But Stages 7 and 8 were rearranged by race organizers because the bivouac location was impacted by rain. According to Dakar Rally website, the stage will start in Riyadh, and the special will be 333 kilometers. An assistance zone will be at the finish (via a 94-kilometer link), for a maximum time slot of two hours. The teams then will return to Al Duwadimi. The loop stage then will take place in Stage 8, racing against the clock for 345 kilometers before teams head to the bivouac in Riyadh.

Here are the stage winners and the top three in the overall rankings for each category (along with U.S. notables) after Stage 6 of the 2023 Dakar Rally (WILL BE UPDATED):

Car

Stage 6 winner: Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT), Toyota Gazoo Racing, 3:13:12.

General rankings: 1. Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT), Toyota Gazoo Racing, 24:00:48; 2. Henk Lategan (ZAF), Toyota Gazoo Racing, 25:07:38; 3. Lucas Moraes (BRA), Overdrive Racing, 25:14:07.

Bike

Stage 6 winner: Luciano Benavides (ARG) 3:14:19

General rankings: 1. Skyler Howes (USA), Husqvarna Factory Racing, 26:31:52; 2. Toby Price (AUS), Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, 26:35:23; 3. Kevin Benavides (ARG), Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, 26:38:53. U.S. notables: 7. Mason Klein (USA), BAS world KTM Racing Team, 26:44:38; 25. Jacob Argubright, Duust Co Rally Team, 29:52:31; 46. Pablo Copetti, Del Amo Motorsports, 34:22:37; 61. Petr Vlcek, Detyens Racing, 36:24:12; 92. James Pearson, American Rally Originals, 49:33:32; 95. Morrison Hart, American Rally Originals, 50:30:45; 101. David Pearson, American Rally Originals, 79:33:08; 103. Lawrence Ace Nilson, Duust Rally Team, 84:03:53; 109. Kyle McCoy, American Rally Originals, 121:15:00. Awaiting classification: Paul Neff, American Rally Originals;  Withdrew: Ricky Brabec (USA), Monster Energy Honda, 9:42:49.

Quad

Stage 6 winner: Manuel Andjuar (ARG), 7240 Team, 4:08:25

General rankings: 1. Alexandre Giroud (FRA), Yamaha Racing, 32:58:54; 2. Francisco Moreno Flores (ARG), Dragon, 33:41:51; 3. Pablo Copetti (USA), Del Amo Motorsports, 34:32:37.

T3 light prototype

Stage 6 winner: Guillaume De Mevius (BEL), Grally Team, 3:39:43.

General rankings: 1. Guillaume De Mevius (BEL), Grally Team, 27:55:22. 2. Austin “A.J.” Jones (USA), Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team, 28:04:219. 3. Seth Quintero (USA), Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team, 29:03:37. U.S. notable: Mitch Guthrie, Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team, 52:44:57.

T4 SSV

Stage 6 winner: Marek Goczal (POL), Energylandia Rally Team, 3:43:18.

General rankings: 1. Rodrigo Luppi De Oliveira (BRA), South Racing Can-Am, 29:02:55; 2. Rokas Baciuska (LTU), Red Bull Can-Am Factory Team, 29:23:12; 3. Marek Goczal (POL), Energylandia Rally Team, 29:25:27.

Truck 

Stage 6 winner: Mitchel Van Den Brink (NLD), Eurol Team De Rooy Iveco, 3:46:58.

1. Martin Van Den Brink (NLD), Eurol Team De Rooy Iveco, 28:43:27; 2. Ales Loprais (CZE), Instaforex Loprais Praga, 28:44:04; 3. Janus Van Kastren (NLD), Boss Machinery Team De Rooy Iveco, 29:09:57.

PAST RECAPS

PROLOGUE: Mattias Ekstrom leads Audi charge

STAGE 1: Ricky Brabec opens with victory; Carlos Sainz keeps Audi on top

STAGE 2: Mason Klein continues U.S. surge in bikes

STAGE 3: Brabec is eliminated by crash as inclement weather shortens stage

STAGE 4: Klein, Skyler Howes overcome adversity

STAGE 5: Skyler Howes moves into overall lead in bikes

AUDI CONTROVERSY: Electric hybrids given power boost

CARRYING THE FLAGU.S. drivers and riders in the 2023 Dakar Rally

Dakar Rally 2023, Stage 6: Peterhansel, Sainz crash on a devastating day for Team Audi originally appeared on NBCSports.com