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Peterhansel, Despres retain Dakar Rally titles

Photo: Victor R. Caivano/AP

Stephane Peterhansel is the first person to win the car category twice since the rally moved from Africa to South America in 2009 for security reasons.

France's Stephane Peterhansel and Cyril Despres defended their car and motorbike titles in the Dakar Rally on Saturday.

Peterhansel, leading the race since the second stage on Jan. 6, became the most successful driver in the world's toughest rally with his fifth victory in cars to go along with a record six on a motorbike.

He dedicated his win to Jean-Claude Olivier, the team manager during his motorbike victories who died in a traffic accident in France last weekend.

Peterhansel is the first person to win the car category twice since the rally moved from Africa to South America in 2009 for security reasons.

With a commanding overall lead, his Mini finished about four minutes behind teammate Nani Roma, the winner of the fast, rainy 14th stage into Santiago.

Overall, Peterhansel beat 2009 winner Giniel de Villiers of South Africa by 42 minutes, and by nearly 90 over another teammate, third-place Leonid Novitskiy of Russia.

The favored X-raid team spearheaded by Peterhansel placed four cars in the top five. Roma, last year's runner-up, was fourth, and Orlando Terranova of Argentina was fifth.

"A race is never won from the beginning. The team did a cracking job," Peterhansel said after his 25th Dakar. "We never stopped, we never had a mechanical. We only had to drive as fast as we could.

"On the other hand, my co-driver Jean-Paul (Cottret) did an amazing job navigating. We never had to ease up. We always maintained a high pace, apart from the last couple of days, when we started dosing our efforts. This is the first time since I started racing in cars that we've finished a race without a single mechanical problem. This is the best car I've ever driven."

Despres' fifth title on a KTM tied him in rally history with the inaugural Dakar winner, countryman Cyril Neveu. They're second only to Peterhansel in bike titles.

Despres was favored for the win after his rival in recent years, three-time champ Marc Coma of Spain, didn't enter because of an injured shoulder. Despres was penalized for changing engines in mid-race but regained the lead last Tuesday and held on.

He was 17th on Saturday, four minutes behind stage winner Ruben Faria of Portugal.

In the overall, Despres was 10:43 ahead of teammate Faria, and 18:48 ahead of Chile's Francisco Lopez.

The Frenchman was eloquent in explaining the grueling challenges of the Dakar.

"I went for it with all the surprises a Dakar can throw at you," Despres said. "In the end, I've got a good reason to be very happy. The day when winning the Dakar becomes easy, it won't be interesting any more.

"It's too long, it's too tough, it's too hot, it's too cold, you've got to rise early in the morning, you've got to find your way out of the dune mazes in Peru and Chile, you've got to tackle the stones and cactuses on the courses near Cordoba (Argentina). It's just too tricky for it to be easy to win."

The rally began on Jan. 5 in the Peruvian capital of Lima and wound its way south through the deserts and mountains of Peru, Argentina and Chile.

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