Sunderland, who led almost all of the first week of the Saudi Arabian event, had lost the advantage as the rally resumed after rest day on Sunday, as he lost almost 26 minutes to the leaders on what he described as a “casino” stage in terms of navigation.
However, the Briton struck back on Monday’s 395km Al Dawadimi-Wadi Ad Dawasir test, leading at every single waypoint to win the stage by two minutes, 53 seconds and vault himself from fourth to first in the general classification.
Overnight leader Adrien van Beveren by contrast endured a tougher day as the second rider on the road, but the Yamaha man limited his time loss to Sunderland to 10m21s, finishing ninth.
It means the Frenchman has slipped to third overall, 4m43s behind Sunderland and just under a minute behind KTM’s Matthias Walkner, who held on to second with the third-best stage time.
Just a further 47 seconds behind van Beveren in fourth is Pablo Quintanilla, who ended up as Sunderland’s nearest challenger on a strong day for the Honda contingent.
The Chilean rider moved up two places from sixth overnight, while making a similar jump to fifth was his teammate Joan Barreda, who sits 14m38s behind Sunderland.
KTM’s reigning champion Kevin Benavides had a stage to forget as he shipped some 15 minutes to Sunderland, sliding from third overnight to sixth overall behind Barreda.
Likewise having a day to forget were Lorenzo Santolino (Sherco), who has slipped from fifth to seventh, and Stage 7 winner Jose Ignacio Cornejo, who dropped from ninth to 12th after opening the road.
Toby Price (KTM) was sixth-fastest and has now re-entered the top 10 overall in ninth, 32 minutes off the lead, while Ricky Brabec (Honda) moved up a place in the general classification to 13th.
Yamaha lost one of its factory contingent on Monday as Ross Branch withdrew from the rally. The Botswanan rider was suffering from bruising from a fall on Stage 6, prior to the rest day, and opted to remain at the bivouac in the morning.
Branch becomes the third factory retirement of the rally following Skyler Howes (Husqvarna) on Stage 5 and Daniel Sanders (GasGas) prior to Stage 6.
Standings after Stage 8:
|3||42||Adrien van Beveren||YAMAHA||27:43:25||+00:04:43||00:00:00|
|7||15||Lorenzo Santolino||SHERCO FACTORY||27:59:51||+00:21:09||00:00:00|