San Miguel de Tucumán, Argentina – Sebastien Loeb threw down the gauntlet with an emphatic win for Peugeot on Stage 2 of the Dakar Rally on Tuesday, taking the overall lead as well.
The nine times world rally champion defied the apparent odds to beat Nasser Al Attiyah in the first of the Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Hiluxes and Carlos Sainz in another Peugeot, with South African hero Giniel de Villiers just one second further back in fourth.
Spaniard Nani Roma was fifth in the third Toyota, with Saudi Yazeed al Rajhi sixth in the best of the Minis.
Loeb's drive is best put into perspective by his two-minute advantage over Peugeot team-mate Sainz, who had also complained about the Toyotas before chasing Al-Attiyah and De Villiers throughout the stage.
The team has been complaining that the 2017 rules slow the Peugeots down and favour the Toyotas, but Loeb delivered a spellbinding performance to lead by more than a minute at the first checkpoint from Al Attiyah, with De Villiers 40 seconds further adrift.
Three Toyotas in the top five
Sainz was fourth, ahead of Roma and Al Rajhi after Xavi Pons' South African-built Ford Ranger lost time when it stopped in the stage, but the order remained more or less the same through to the finish.
"We tried to push when we could," said Al-Attiyah after reaching the bivouac in San Miguel de Tucumán. "The good news was that our Hilux ran without a single problem today, which was a relief after yesterday's engine fire!"
"It was a good stage for us today, and the car felt perfect," said De Villiers. "We finished just one second slower than Sainz – which shows just how good the 2017 Hilux really is."
After two stages Loeb led the overall standings by 28 seconds from Al-Attiyah, with Sainz almost two minutes down in third, just seven seconds ahead of De Villiers, and Roma another minute adrift to make it three Hiluxes in the top five.
Defending champion Toby Price stamped his authority on the second day of the bike race, dominating the early running before controlling the pace to win by 2m39s from Austrian KTM team-mate Matthias Walkner and Portuguese Honda rider Paulo Goncalves.
British rider Sam Sunderland (KTM) was classified third after Stage 1 winner Viscount Xavier de Soultrait and his Yamaha popped up in third place after being missing from the timing screens all day, only to be penalised a minute, which dropped him to fourth behind Sunderland, but ahead of Husqvarna man Pablo Quintanilla.
The Hondas of Juan Barreda Bort and Ricky Brabec lost three minutes each, dropping them out of the top four to sixth and eighth respectively, on either side of Stefan Svitko's KTM.
South African biker David Thomas (Husqvarna) was up to 37th by Check Point 4, but fell back to finish an impressive 43th – moving up two positions overall to 42nd – while Botswana rider Vince Crosbie (KTM) came in 66th, with Walter Terblanche (KTM) 98th (up 20 places to 97th overall!) and Joey Evans (KTM) 107th, to hold on to 103rd overall.
Next up is the climb to altitude, as Stage 3 takes the crews from San Miguel de Tucumán up to San Salvador de Jujuy, with the altitude peaking at 5000 metres near the end of the stage. The total stage distance for the day is 512km including a special stage of 416km. The stage brings the first high altitude dunes, which will equally challenge both the drivers and the navigators.
This will be the final stage in Argentina, before the rally crosses the border into Bolivia for five more days of high altitude racing, as well as the rest day at La Paz.