(Reuters) - Motorcycle rider Sam Sunderland became the first Briton to win the Dakar Rally in any category on Saturday while French veteran Stephane Peterhansel won the car crown for his 13th career title.
Dubai-based Sunderland, on a KTM, beat Austrian team mate Matthias Walkner by 32 minutes after the final 64km competitive stage in Rio Cuarto, Argentina.
He then rode 700km to the official finish in Buenos Aires, where he stood on top of the podium.
“Unbelievable. When I crossed the line I felt all the emotion hit me. The weight on my shoulders of the race over the last week, leading the rally has been really heavy,” said Sunderland.
”It’s the first Dakar I’ve ever finished and to finish first is an incredible feeling. I‘m really lost for words.
“It’s incredible to be the first Englishman. Hopefully we can create some English interest now, because so far they’ve not been reporting much, but I hope we can change that,” he added.
Last year’s motorcycle winner, Toby Price of Australia, retired with a broken leg on the fourth stage. Sunderland had pulled out with mechanical problems in his two previous attempts in 2012 and 2014.
Defending champion Peterhansel, who has won the Dakar six times on bikes and now seven times in cars, beat Peugeot team mate and compatriot Sebastien Loeb by five minutes.
Cyril Despres completed a one-two-three for the manufacturer.
“There were, in all, seven or eight drivers with a shot at victory. Halfway through the race there were only four left, and by the final week it was just Sebastien and me,” said Peterhansel.
“Yesterday, it was decided by a flat tyre, and that was probably the turning point in this Dakar,” added the champion, who thanked Peugeot for letting their drivers race without team orders.
Loeb, a nine times world rally champion, indicated he would be back for more.
“I don’t think I‘m going to race in as many editions of the Dakar as Peterhansel, but my aim is to win it someday: we’ll have to keep on trying.” he said.
Russian Sergey Karyakin won the quad bikes category and compatriot Eduard Nikolaev the trucks title with Kamaz.
The Dakar Rally began in 1978 as a race from Paris across the Sahara to the Senegalese capital but switched to South America in 2009 for security reasons.
This year’s race started in Paraguay and also went through Bolivia.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis/Peter Rutherford