Things can change in a blink of an eye at the Dakar Rally and after Nasser Al-Attiyah’s confirmed retirement earlier in the day, defending motorbike champion Toby Price joined him in exiting the brutal race with Team Peugeot star Carlos Sainz battling back from the brink of abandonment.
Thursday’s 416 kilometre special stage from San Salvador de Juluy in Argentina to Tupiza in Bolivia, the longest timed section so far, again took the drivers and riders above 3 500 metres.
With dangerous sand dunes and tricky navigation to deal with as well, many got lost along the way. Frenchman Cyril Despres recorded his first victory at the Dakar behind the wheel of a car and took a big chunk of time out of his rivals in the process.
The big story of the day on four wheels came late in the day though when 2010 winner Sainz rolled his car and ended up in a ravine, leaving him waiting for assistance and bringing a premature end to his victory hopes. He did manage to get back underway, but lost more than two hours to his countryman Despres. Sainz has now officially withdrawn from the race.
After a 1-2-3 on Wednesday, Sainz wasn’t the only Team Peugeot driver to hit big trouble with Stéhane Peterhansel losing 15 minutes having taken a track in the wrong direction and Sébastien Loeb coming in 22 minutes down the road after engine trouble.
Despres said: “It’s pretty amazing to win a stage after only three Dakars in a car. We started in some small dunes at high altitude and the car had maybe 20, 30 or 40 percent less power. After the beginning we were leading, then Carlos (Sainz) overtook us after 6 km and we followed him for the whole day. But unfortunately on a twisty track he made a mistake and he rolled the car.”
Peterhansel added: “For us it was a really bad day. On the last note for the navigation, we got completely lost. I went into a big hole in a river and got stuck for twenty minutes. I damaged the steering a little bit and we broke a wheel. So, it’s not really a good day, but compared to Carlos, maybe it’s a little bit better.”
Loeb said: “It was OK, but we had trouble with the engine which stopped during the stage. We lost about thirty minutes, I think. Then we found a solution to fix it and we could push again, so I pushed really hard. We’re still in the fight for the win, that’s good news.”
Source: Red Bull Content Pool, Photos – Marcelo Mragni