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Sam Sunderland recovers 2022 Dakar Rally lead with one stage to go

Sam Sunderland recovers the lead of the 2022 Dakar Rally with one stage to go as the Briton and GASGAS stand on the cusp of a famous victory

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Sam Sunderland has returned to the top of the timesheets with just one stage of the 2022 Dakar Rally remaining as the fight for victory looks to have whittled down to three contenders.

The GASGAS rider - who became the first Briton to win the Dakar Rally in 2017 - has been in contention for victory from the very beginning, leading the way between Stage 1B and the Stage 6 half-way stage, but has been embroiled in a mesmerising fight for honours throughout the second week.

With the lead changing every day since Stage 7, Sunderland came into the penultimate test (SS11) in third position, five minutes down on Yamaha’s Adrien Van Beveren.

However, after posting the second quickest time through SS11, Sunderland overturned the deficit and put six minutes between himself and Pablo Quintanilla, putting him in charge with just the final 680km run to Bisha remaining.

In what has been a close and competitive Dakar Rally throughout, Sunderland’s relatively comfortable 6mins 52secs buffer at this late stage can still be wiped out with the second week in particular proving how much of a challenge it can be to be running first on the road.

Even so, it would appear victory will now only come from one of the top three with Quintanilla still in range for a major upset, the Chilean having worked down an early deficit of running outside the top ten and 15mins down on the lead aboard the Honda. KTM’s Mathias Walkner is also within striking distance, 23secs behind Quintanilla. 

Erstwhile Van Beveren now looks to be out of the running after dropping 20mins in total on SS11, leaving him 15mins down the order in fourth position. Similarly, Joan Barreda Bort suffered a difficult day having dropped from 8mins adrift of the lead to 27mins down in fifth.

Should Sunderland complete victory it will be his second success on the gruelling endurance event, but his first in Saudi Arabia. It will also be a first success for GASGAS, which would make it only the sixth different manufacturer to win the motorcycle class since the event’s inauguration in 1978