Qatari driver keeps battling at Dakar Rally

    Qatari driver Nasser Al-Attiyah steers his Hummer through dunes during the seventh stage in Copiapo on Saturday.

    Story highlights

    • Defending champion Nasser Al-Attiyah wins Saturday's seventh stage of the Dakar Rally
    • Hummer driver moves up to sixth overall as he makes up almost eight minutes on leader
    • Mini's Stephane Peterhansel extends his advantage over teammate Krzysztof Holowczyc
    • Motorbike champion Marc Coma makes up two minutes on leader Cyril Despres
    Nasser Al-Attiyah kept his Dakar Rally title defense alive as he clawed back almost eight minutes in winning Saturday's seventh stage in Chile.
    The Qatari driver is still more than 42 minutes behind leader Stephane Peterhansel in sixth place overall, having lost significant time to the Frenchman's Mini in the opening stage of 14 and then on Thursday.
    But his surging form in the Hummer, passing five drivers in the second half of the 419-kilometer special in and around Copiapo, has given him hope that all is not over going into Sunday's halfway rest day.
    "The car worked perfectly well today and we attacked from the beginning to the end of the special. We took a lot of risks to set the best time," the 41-year-old said, having lost a stage when Friday's leg from Fiambala in Argentina was called off due to snow in the Andes.
    "Our objective is to claw back seven or eight minutes every day. And today we did it perfectly. We will do our best to repeat this performance in all stages from Monday onwards, or even try to do better."
    Peterhansel is a Dakar legend with three car titles and six on motorbikes, all coming before the grueling endurance event moved to South America in 2009 due to security problems in Africa.
    He has a lead of 11 minutes and 22 seconds over Mini teammate Krzysztof Holowczyc of Poland, who was fifth last year.
    The 46-year-old was third in Saturday's stage, seven minutes clear of Holowczyc and 23 seconds behind Hummer's American Robby Gordon.
    Gordon, an experienced NASCAR driver, is third overall -- 13 minutes off the pace after finishing 7:30 behind his teammate.
    Motorbike champion Marc Coma moved to within eight minutes of leader Cyril Despres after shaving 2:03 off the Frenchman's advantage on Saturday.
    The Spaniard triumphed in the sand dunes to keep alive his hopes of a fourth title for the KLM team.
    "It is common knowledge that the stage before the rest day is always difficult, and today was not an exception, with stifling heat and very soft sand," Coma said.
    "Nevertheless, we rode very fast and I was able to attack. We know the strategy well, so we are aware that I will probably gain two minutes one day, then Cyril will gain two minutes the next... And it is hard to change this when there is but one road."
    Despres, also a three-time winner on bikes, admitted he had lapsed in concentration.
    "I was a bit lazy today, since Marc led the race from km 200 onwards, the start of the second special, but I think that is also part of the race. So I thank him for this," he said.
    "There is always a strategic aspect, since we know we can control two-minute gaps. Having said that, I finished with my hands paralyzed, but it was a really beautiful special with beautiful dunes."