San Juan, Argentina - Stephane Peterhansel has taken back the overall Dakar Rally lead from Peugeot team-mate Sebastien Loeb after regaining time lost in tending to Slovenian motorcycle competitor Simon Marcic when they collided on Stage 10.
Marcic broke a leg in the collision along a riverbed during the 10th stage from Chilecito to San Juan, the longest of the rally after a landslide forced cancellation of Wednesday's marathon section. The outcome could have been much worse, however, with the rider going under the car.
Peterhansel, the reigning champion and a six-times winner on motorcycles before switching to cars and winning another six times, waited with the KTM rider until the medical helicopter arrived.
"The biker was going the wrong way," Peterhansel said. "When he saw me, he braked, and he crashed and I stopped on top of him. I saw that his leg was broken but he was still conscious. We stayed for about 15 or 20 minutes with him and waited for the medical helicopter.
"Afterwards, it was really complicated to restart, to drive with a good speed. Not an easy day."
The Real Giniel
Despite a puncture that cost him two minutes as he charged home on three wheels in the surviving Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Hilux bakkie, South African star Giniel de Villiers finished sixth for the day, 15 minutes behind on-the-road winner Loeb, and moved up one spot to fifth in the overall standings.
Nani Roma in the Overdrive Toyota Hilux lost 18 minutes after wrong-slotting, to finish the long, difficult stage down in 10th, more than half an hour adrift of Loeb, but retained his fourth position in the overall standings.
Zimbabwean rally ace Conrad Rautenbach, also in a ‘Made in Midrand’ Toyota Hilux, came in a brilliant eighth as he continued his intense overall battle with Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Al Qassimi (Peugeot) - the two leading rookies in the 2017 Dakar were separated by just a minute overall after 10 out of 12 stages.
Chaotic special stage
The leaderboard kept frantically changing as top competitors got lost and lesser known names popped up at the top of the time sheets.
Despres led from Loeb early on, but unknown competitors such as Fuchs, Gutierrez Flieg and Dumas made best of the difficult navigation up to Waypoint 2 to push De Villiers and Orlando Terranova (Mini) down the order.
Top Mini driver Mikko Hirvonen lost 51 minutes, before colliding with a a truck and stopping with a broken radiator.
At Waypoint 3 Despres led the Peruvian Fuchs, who had started 12th in his HRX, with Chile's Boris Garfuliec up to third from an 18th position start. Mini’s Yazeed Al Rajhi was fourth, ahead of Loeb but by the mid-stage break the Peugeots were in charge again.
Loeb’s late charge
Then Loeb delivered a crushing performance after lunch to reel Despres in and win the stage by 2m22s from his team-mate.
"Everybody was completely lost," said Peterhansel, who finished the stage six minutes and 45 seconds behind overnight leader Loeb but was given back 14 minutes and 13 seconds by organisers.
Peterhansel now led Loeb by 5m50s overall with two stages remaining before the finish in Buenos Aires on Saturday 14 January.
Chaos erupted in the dunes to completely change the face of the two-wheeler race.
The bikes that started 25th, 17th, 19th and 22nd - Michael Metge (Honda), Ondrej Klymciw (Husqvarna), and KTM riders Todd Smith and Ivan Cervantes Montero - were the top four at Waypoint 3, while Honda star Joan Barrera Bort, who was first away at the start, was down in 12th, second starter Matthias Walkner (KTM ) was 15th and overall leader Sam Sunderland (KTM) 16th.
Top contenders such as Chilean Pablo Quintanilla (Husqvarna), who started the stage second overall, and Viscount Xavier de Soultrait (Yamaha) also lost as much as an hour in that section.
Under the radar
Through all of that, Ricky Brabec quite literally flew under the radar to beat Czech surprise Klymciw to the mid-stage break - the Californian's transponder wasn’t registering a time at the waypoints, so he literally appeared out of the blue - only for his Honda to let him down later in the day.
Then Quintanilla crashed about 50km from the end of the 448km timed section and simply gave up, saying he was too ill to continue.
Metge held on to the slenderest of leads to win the stage by seconds from his Honda team leader Barreda Bort and KTM’s Stefan Svitko, who was airlifted to hospital from the finish, suffering from exhaustion.
But then Metge was slapped with another one-hour penalty, handing the stage win to Barreda Bort. Local hero Franco Caimi, also on a Honda, was classified third, ahead of Helder Rodrigues' Yamaha and Cervantes.
In spite of a shocking day, Sunderland somehow emerged with an even bigger half-hour lead in the overall standings from KTM team-mates Walkner and Gerard Farres Guell. Yamaha rider Adrien van Beveren was fourth overall, with Barreda Bort up to fifth and Husqvarna’s Pierre Alexandre Renet sixth - and that after Quintanilla started the day second and Van Beveren third!
"Everybody got lost around 40km," said Walkner. "Then I saw Sam and he also didn't know where we had to go. But in the end, he did a pretty good job all day in front."
It’s worth noting that Barreda Bort would have been leading by seven minutes had he not picked up a one-hour penalty a week earlier for refuelling in a prohibited area.
Botswana's Vince Crosbie (KTM) finished 33rd for the day, moving up from 41st to 38th overall, while South Africa’s Para to Dakar hero Joey Evans, also on a KTM, was the second-last finisher after more than 11 gruelling hours in the timed section - and still moved up from 99th to 92nd overall!
Reuters, IOL Motoring