Rallying: Vatanen powers to Dakar stage win

The four-time Dakar Rally champion, Ari Vatanen, drove to his 51st stage victory in the event as he clocked the fastest time on stage 14 in Mali and Senegal yesterday.

The four-time Dakar Rally champion, Ari Vatanen, drove to his 51st stage victory in the event as he clocked the fastest time on stage 14 in Mali and Senegal yesterday.

The Nissan driver beat Volkswagen's Bruno Saby by over nine minutes to take his first stage win in 2005 across the 529 kilometre course between Kayes and Tambacounda. The Finn won the Dakar Rally in 1987, 1989, 1990 and 1991 and now divides his time between rallying and his duties as a member of the European Parliament.

Giniel de Villiers came home third in his Nissan, ahead of Mitsubishi's Nani Roma and Honda's Thierry Magnaldi. Stéphane Peterhansel maintained his overall lead after coming home in eighth spot. The defending champion was beaten by 52 seconds by his Mitsubishi team-mate Luc Alphand, but Peterhansel holds a 26-minute overall lead over Alphand heading into the final phase of the race.

Jutta Kleinschmidt held on to third place but suffered her share of difficulties over the course. The German driver stopped with mechanical problems 268km into the stage, losing valuable time. The Volkswagen pilot damaged the steering system on her Touareg and was assisted by her team-mate Robby Gordon, who then had to wait for spare parts.

De Villiers remains fourth overall, with Saby fifth. Josep Maria Servia, who hit a tree on stage 12, decided to quit the rally after badly damaging his Schlesser-Ford buggy when he rolled it on Thursday. The pull-out was another blow for the team after team head Jean-Louis Schlesser also withdrew from the race.

Jean De Azevedo won in the bike section to become the first Brazilian to win a Dakar stage on two wheels, as Spain's Marc Coma closed in on the overall leader Cyril Déspres. Azevedo beat David Fretigne by 10 seconds on his KTM, to move up to seventh overall.

Coma came home fifth on the stage, behind Chris Blais and Alfie Cox, to knock nearly four minutes off Déspres's advantage. The Frenchman ended up seventh and now has a lead of just over 12 minutes at the top.

The top five remain in the same order with Cox third, Isidre Esteve Pujol fourth and Fretigne fifth, heading into the penultimate day of the desert challenge today.

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