Spanish driver Carlos Sainz wins Dakar Rally for third time

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Qiddiya (Saudi Arabia) (AFP)

Veteran Spanish driver Carlos Sainz won the Dakar Rally for the third time on Friday, finishing with a comfortable winning margin in Saudi Arabia.

The 57-year-old led from the third stage and crossed the finish line 6min 21sec ahead of nearest challenger and reigning champion Nasser al-Attiyah of Qatar, who had managed to cut Sainz's lead to just 24 seconds on Tuesday but fell back after navigation blunders.

Stephane Peterhansel was third at 9 min 58 sec behind in his Mini. Both the Frenchman and Sainz won four stages each in the marathon 12-day, 7,800-kilometre (4,800-mile) race.

This year's Dakar Rally was controversially staged in Saudi Arabia, a decision which has sparked an angry reaction from critics of the country's human rights record.