Alonso breaks podium jinx, finishes second at stage eight - GulfToday

Alonso breaks podium jinx, finishes second at stage eight

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Mathieu Serradori and co-driver Fabian Lurquin race their Century during stage eight of the Dakar Rally in Wadi Al Dawasir on Monday. Associated Press

Two-time former Formula One world champion Fernando Alonso finished second behind Frenchman Mathieu Serradori at the eighth stage to register his best result in Dakar Rally on Monday.

The day was overshadowed by the tragic demise of Portuguese rider Paulo Goncalves earlier on Sundayn resulting in cancellation of the motorbike and quadbike categories for the stage -- a 477km loop incorporating straight sections with several chains of dunes to test handling skills.

“I’d like to dedicate this victory to Paulo because I’m a former biker,” said Serradori, an amateur who drives an SRT.

“It’s not easy to get motivated after a day like that and my co-pilot Fabien was there as well. But there are two fighters in the car and I’m very happy with this result.” Serradori finished 4min 4sec ahead of Toyota’s Alonso, with Argentinean Mini driver Orlando Terranova in third, at 6:19.

Alonso broke his jinx of podium finish after having been deprived of a place in top three on the four previous occasions despite making in top ten each time.

He was quick to heap praise on his co-driver/navigator Marc Coma, a five-time Dakar champion on a motorbike.

“Today we had an amazing day,” said Alonso.

“We had one puncture unfortunately and we lost a little bit of momentum there, but otherwise the stage was nearly perfect and Marc was unbelievable, you know - the dunes, the navigation.

In his first Dakar Alonso had limited ambitions ruled out winning a stage but now he believes it is within his grasp.

“Initially I thought it was impossible,” he said. “But after today, obviously when you are second maybe there is a chance, so we will try.”

He said not having motorbikes setting the route had upset the rhythm of the stage.

“Having no bikes changed a lot, especially for the first two or three cars,” he said.

“I benefitted from starting from the back... I’m happy to complete the day without any issues. It was a beautiful stage, quite fast with a lot of dunes, so it was good. I think the dunes are harder than tracks, but for whatever reason I feel more comfortable.

“I’m not coming from the dunes at all but it seems that I can get a good rhythm and a good flow in the dunes and I’m enjoying so far this second week of the Dakar.”

His second place sees him consolidate his 13th place in the overall standings, more than 3hr 10min off the pace set by Carlos Sainz.

The battle continues atop the general classification between the leading trio of two-time winner Sainz, defending champion Nasser Al-Attiyah and Stephane Peterhansel, a 13-time winner (seven in cars, six on bikes).

Sainz had to open the way on the stage and was swiftly caught by Al-Attiyah and Peterhansel. But the veteran Spaniard then drove his Mini to keep pace with his rivals, meaning he retains the rally lead, 6:40 ahead of the Qatari and 13:09 in front of the Frenchman.

Tuesday’s 9th stage sees the cavalcade travel to the eastern town of Haradh on a 410km special.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s long-standing interest and passion for motorsport was a key factor in awarding the hosting rights of Dakar Rally to the kingdom in 2020 and for the coming years.

With an ever-expanding fan base across the country and to further develop female participation in motorsport, Dakar Rally organizers ASO initiated a development project that aims to have female Saudi pilots take part in the 2021 edition of the challenging race.

To set up the project, ASO worked with Saudi circuit racer Aseel Al Hamad, who is also a board member of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation (SAMF) and a representative of the FIA Women in Motorsports Commission.

Hamad proposed a grassroot approach to put young Saudi talents in the driving seat and prepare them for next year’s edition of the desert adventure.

To kickstart the ambitious project, ASO reached out to Isabelle Patissier and Thierry Delli-Zotti, the owners of a rally driving academy in Morocco and Dakar Rally veterans. Patissier, who participated in the race nine times between 2002 and 2014 along with other several rallies in Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt and UAE, was asked to bring one of her four-seater cars to Dakar Saudi Arabia 2020 for this project, so a Land Cruiser T2 category was shipped to Saudi Arabia for that purpose.  Taking part in the program herself as a contender for Dakar Rally participation, Hamad also nominated a number of up-and-coming female Saudi pilots to hone their skills and prepare ahead of Dakar 2021.

Reem Al Aboud, a young racing driver and one of program members, drove the first stage of Dakar Saudi Arabia 2020 from Jeddah to Al Wajh. The 20-year-old is a club racer, whose passion for motorsport started with karting. She also won the second place at Saudi Time Attack and was the first Saudi female to test the Formula-E car in Diriyah ABB Formula E in 2018.