Fernando Alonso impresses, Carlos Sainz claims Stage 7 victory on Dakar Rally

Riding the dunes in a highly-complex vehicle built for speed isn't the easiest thing in the world. However, watching the leading cars scrambling up and over the dunes between Riyadh and Wadi Al Dawasir today made it look easy.

Back in action after yesterday's Rest Day with a marathon 741km stage with 546km of special stage, the Dakar Rally competitors were confronted with the sad news that Bikes competitors Paolo Goncalves had died after a crash today. The 40-year-old Portuguese rider, who was contesting his 13th Dakar Rally, fell heavily at the 276km mark. A medical helicopter was dispatched to his side after event organisers were alerted by the motorcycle's onboard emergency system. The medics tried to resuscitate him, but upon being airlifted to Layla Hospital he was pronounced dead. Truly sad news...

Unbeknownst to competitors on Stage Seven, the racing was red-hot throughout the field as racers vied to tackle the second half of the Dakar Rally with added determination. Carlos Sainz/Lucas Cruz (Bahrain JCW X-Raid Team) picked up where they left off on Stage Six by taking their third stage victory of 2020 over bitter rivals Nasser Al Attiyah/Mathieu Baumel (Toyota Gazoo Racing) and Stephane Peterhansel/Paulo Fiuza (Bahrain JCW X-Raid Team).

Carlos Sainz/Lucas Cruz (Bahrain JCW X-Raid Team)

Sainz, who started the day with a 07min 46sec advantage over Al Attiyah and a 16min 18sec lead over Peterhansel, was defensive on the first half of the stage. Al Attiyah and Peterhansel attacked in a bid to shake off Sainz, but the wily Dakar racer was never too far behind. Reaching the bivouac, Sainz surprised his rivals with the MINI Buggy's dune abilities; Al Attiyah, with many years' experience of racing over this dunes, was expected to eclipse the Spaniard, but in fact lost another two minutes to Sainz. His overall lead now stands at exactly ten minutes over Al Attiyah and nearly 20 minutes over Peterhansel. Will that ten-minute time gap become a mental barrier to Al Attiyah?

Interestingly, Toyota Gazoo Racing driver Fernando Alonso and co-driver Marc Coma were only five-and-a-half minutes slower than team-mates Al Attiyah over this first dune-covered stage to take sixth place at the end. The Spanish two-time Formula One champion was more than two minutes quicker than his other team-mates Giniel de Villiers/Alex Haro. His first taste of real dunes was passed and Alonso is now relishing his prospects for the days ahead.

The biggest vehicles in the desert produced the hottest action of the day's stage, as two trucks raced to the stage finish just three seconds apart. It was a Kamaz-Master one-two-three sweep the podium results, with overall leaders Andrey Karginov/Andrey Mokeev/Igor Leonid taking the win to extend their overall dominance in this class.

Anton Shibalov/Dmitrii Nikitin/Ivan Tatarinov (Kamaz-Master)

It was team-mates Dmitry Sotnikov/Ruslan Akhmadeev/Ilgiz Ahkmetzianov, who were running far down on the leader board thanks to unfortunate mechanical problems during the first week of the race, that finished just three seconds behind Karginov's Kamaz. The remaining Kamaz-Master truck of Anton Shibalov/Dmitrii Nikitin/Ivan Tatarinov that finished third today to further consolidate their second place overall position. Siarhei Viazovich/Pavel Haranin/Anton Zaparoshchanka (MAZ-SportAuto) finished the stage fourth, but maintain their third position on the overall leader board.

To complete 546km in five hours in a truck over tall, soft dunes is remarkable.

The two-wheeled competition was marred by the death of Goncalves today. It was a difficult day in the saddle for all Bikes competitors due to the terrain, and when riders heard of the fate of Goncalves it surely sapped yet more vital energy from them.

Matthias Walkner (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) summed up today's stage: "Four and a half hours for 550 kilometres. I think it was the fastest stage of my life. The average speed, I think, was about 130 km/h. You have to concentrate and the sand makes things less visible. It was long…”

The Austrian finished the stage third overall behind the two Monster Energy Honda Team 2020 riders Kevin Benavides and Jose Barreda. Benavides stopped to assist the fallen Goncalves. At the end of the stage, the organisers deducted that time from his stage result, meaning the Argentinean won his first stage of 2020.

Matthias Walkner (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing)

Consistency has proven to key to success in the Bikes category with American Ricky Brabec displaying that to great effect. He finished Stage Seven strongly on his Monster Energy Honda Team 2020 machine after opening the stage. He lost only 04min 52sec to the stage winner thanks to his cool and calm approach.

Second overall in the Bikes, Pablo Quintanilla (Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing) reached the finish of today's stage in eighth position after nursing a worsening hand injury. He retains his second position in the general classification.

Australian Toby Price was unable to match the speeds of Benavides, Walkner and and Barreda, but he pulled pack time in the second half the stage to finish it seventh overall. He has been leapfrogged on the overall standings by Jose Cornejo (Monster Energy Honda Team 2020), who finished the stage nearly two minutes faster than Price, and now leads him by one-and-a-half minutes on the general classification.

General Classifications after Stage Seven

Cars Category:

1. Carlos Sainz (ESP)/Lucas Cruz (ESP) (Bahrain JCW X-Raid Team): - 27h49m14s
2. Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Mathieu Baumel (FRA) (Toyota Gazoo Racing): +10m00s
3. Stéphane Peterhansel (FRA)/Paulo Fiuza (PRT) (Bahrain JCW X-Raid Team): +19m13s

Bikes Category:

1. Ricky Brabec (USA) Monster Energy Honda Team 2020: - 23h43m47s
2. Pablo Quintanilla (CHI) Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing: +20m56s
3. Toby Price (AUS) Red Bull KTM Factory Team: +25m39s

Trucks Category:

1. Andrey Karginov/AndreyMokeev/Igor Leonid (RUS) Kamaz,-Master: 30h06m45s
2. Anton Shibalov/Dmitrii Nikitin/Ivan Tatarinov (RUS) Kamaz-Master: +21m12s
3. Siarhei Viazovich/ Pavel Haranin/Anton Zaparoshchanka (BLR) Maz-SportAuto: +46m39s