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First-placed for the auto category JCW X-RAID Mini Team Spain's driver Carlos Sainz (C), celebrates as he is congratulated by second-placed Toyota's team Qatar's driver Nasser Al-Attiyah (R) and by third-placed JCW X-RAID Mini Team France's Stephane Peterhansel on the finish area in Qiddiya at the end of the stage 12 of the Dakar 2020 between Haradh and Qiddiya, Saudi Arabia, on January 17, 2020. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE / AFP)

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

The 57-year-old crossed the line in the 12th and final stage 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.

Two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso finished 13th in his Dakar debut, a distant 4hr 42min 47sec behind the winner.

Sainz, the father of F1 driver Carlos Sainz Jr., seized control of the race from the third stage in his X-raid Mini.

He has now won the Dakar with three different manufacturers, having previously triumphed with Volkswagen in 2010 and Peugeot in 2018.

Mini's Spanish drivers Carlos Sainz of Spain and co-driver Lucas Cruz of Spain compete during the Stage 11 of the Dakar 2020 between Shubaytah and Haradh, Saudi Arabia, on January 16, 2020. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE / AFP)

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

Ricky Brabec triumphed in the motorbike section for Honda, becoming the first US rider to win the gruelling race.

Alonso’s first participation was a bruising affair as the 38-year-old Spaniard suffered a double rollover in the tenth stage after hitting a dune at an awkward angle.

The race was marred by the death of Portuguese rider Paulo Goncalves during Sunday’s seventh stage.

The decision to stage the race in Saudi Arabia this year and for at least the next four years sparked an angry reaction from critics of the kingdom’s human rights record. - AFP

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