Lopez delights home crowd, title-holder Peterhansel withdraws
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Chilean biker Francisco Lopez won the seventh stage of the Dakar Rally, which entered Chile for the first time. Spain's Carlos Sainz recovered the lead in the auto race while Mitsubishi title-holder Stephane Peterhansel broke his engine.
AFP - Carlos Sainz kept Volkswagen on course for a Dakar cleansweep on Friday as nine-time winner Stephane Peterhansel pulled out, dealing a hammer blow to Mitsubishi's hopes of an eighth successive title.
Sainz, a former world rally champion, clinched a seventh stage shortened because of heavy rain, finishing 7min 48sec ahead of South African Volkswagen teammate teammate Giniel De Villiers.
It was the Spaniard's third stage win of the 2009 edition and gave him an overall lead of nine seconds after a 243km special from Mendoza in Argentina.
The third Volkswagen, driven by American Mark Miller, took second on the stage, 3min 41sec behind Sainz and he is now third overall.
"The day went well, even if the stage was very hard," admitted Sainz.
"There was the mud, and zones with lots of water, meaning sometimes we had to deal with a bit of wheel-spin. After that it was just as tough, really hard. But everything is going well for the team."
The stage, which reached into Chile for the first time, was trimmed from 419km to 244km after heavy overnight rain had made the course so treacherous that the lorry section of the race was cancelled.
De Villiers said he was frustrated by a series of minor setbacks on Friday.
"First of all, we had to change a tyre. And then, at some point, there was no more water in the windscreen wiper tank," said the South African.
"The wiper had to clear the mud from the windscreen without any water and eventually packed up, leaving us to navigate our way to the finishing line with very poor visibility."
Defending champion Peterhansel was the day's highest-profile casualty when he became the third Mitsubishi driver to pull out after his vehicle suffered engine failure.
The French driver, who has won the car section three times and the motorcycle event on six occasions, saw his engine catch fire before it lost power completely.
"At 148km of the special, Stephane suffered engine failure. It's over. He's stopped by the side of the road," said a Mitsubishi team spokesman.
Peterhansel, taking part in his 20th Dakar, had started the day in eighth place, 34 minutes behind overnight leader De Villiers.
His withdrawal virtually ended Mitsubishi's hopes of an eighth successive victory following the retirement on Thursday of 2006 champion Luc Alphand and the first stage demise of Hiroshi Masuoka, the 2002 and 2003 winner.
Meanwhile, Chile's Francisco Lopez, riding a KTM, won the motorcycle section of the stage.
Spaniard Marc Coma's second-place finish was enough for him to retain first spot in the overall standings.
"I rode quickly. There were a lot of dunes. It was very physical. The bikers will be aching tomorrow," said Lopez.
Saturday is a rest day ahead of the eighth stage on Sunday which is a 652km run from here to La Serena.
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