San Juan de Marcona - Defending champion Stephane Peterhansel took over the lead of the Dakar Rally on Monday, the third driver in three days to hit the front, while Nasser al-Attiyah won the stage in southern Peru.
Toyota Gazoo SA's Al-Attiiyah - who also won Saturday's opening stage - beat the fastest of the Peugeots by a significant 4m5s, moving up from fifth overall to third, 7m43s off the lead, despite losing around three minutes with a flat tyre.
"We needed to push," he said after the stage, "but not really crazily. It was not a big push, because the route really isn’t easy and very dangerous in places.
"It's good, except for yesterday when we opened the road which was very difficult for us because there were no lines, but I think we are in a good way now."
Peterhansel, driving a Peugeot and chasing a record 14th Dakar title in the race that also visits Bolivia and Argentina, was second fastest on the 296km timed stage from Pisco to the port of San Juan de Marcona, to lead team-mate Cyril Despres, the overnight leader on Sunday, by 3m11s overall.
"It was complicated because there were a lot of dunes again," Peterhansel said. "The navigation was a little bit easier this morning because the bikers started first this morning.
"They navigated really well so most of the time we followed the lines of the bikers... we did not drive the stage on full attack, just with a good speed."
He led home Peugeot team-mates Carlos Sainz, Cyril Despres and nine-times world rally champion Sebastian Loeb, who dropped to fourth overall after finishing more than eight and a half minutes behind Al-Attiyah
South African Dakar hero Giniel de Villiers finshed sixth for the day, dropping two positions overall to fifth, 11m23s off the lead.
“We had a strong start, and quickly caught up with Sebastien Loeb, who started three minutes ahead of us," De Villiers said after the stage. "We had some pace, but Loeb’s dust made it tricky for us.
“In the end, there were some tricky spots, and we decided to back off a bit in the dust. Maybe we were too cautious, but we’re still very much in touch with the race, and there’s a lot of racing to come.”
Bernhard ten Brinke brought the third Gazoo Hilux home seventh, ahead of Martin Prokop's SA-built Ford, Jakub Przygonski in the best of the Minis and Lucio Alvarez and SA navigator Rob Howie's Hilux, which continued in the race in spite of being reported to have retired.
Hennie de Klerk kept his cool to emerge relatively untroubled from a testing third day, starting 32nd in the TreasuryOne Amarok after a meteoric rise through the field from 58th at the start on Stage 2. He maintained position for most of the day, but the challenge of dune driving and navigation cost him a few places and he finished 41st - but still moved up one place to 31st overall.
“I think we've found our niche in the Dakar pecking order,” said De Klerk. “We're now racing against cars of more or less the same pace as ours - there are a few people we are getting to know out there and who we think we’d like to beat, so the race is definitely on!
“Today went pretty well; we kept station for the first few checkpoints, passing front-runners who had trouble and being passed by one or two quicker cars coming back through the pack, but the day got tougher as we went on and we lost a few places.
"We also had to stop to help a few of our team-mates and rivals who had problems and rolled, and also pulled a few cars back onto their wheels over the past two days, but that's all part of Dakar.
“Still, we had a good run; we still have to travel the equivalent aof almost halfway round the world to the finish in 11 days time, so we will just keep on pushing on at our pace."
It was a bad day for Spanish driver Nani Roma, a Dakar winner on motorcycle and car, who rolled his Mini near the finish and suffered head and neck injuries. He finished the stage, with navigator Alex Haro largely unhurt, but was flown by helicopter to a nearby airport for medical checks in Lima.
Britain's Sam Sunderland, the Dubai-based defending champion, went back to the top of the motorcycle standings after Honda's overnight leader Joan Barreda got lost and dropped almost 28 minutes. Sunderland won the stage, his second victory for KTM in three days, to lead Honda's Kevin Benavides by 4m38s.
Toby Price's KTM was third ahead of Ricky Brabec's Honda and erstwhile leader Pablo Quintanilla (Husqvarna), with Gerard Farres-Guell next up on a KTM, after several riders including front-runners Walkner, Barreda and de Soultrait lost time when they wrong-slotted.
There was action and drama aplenty among the top riders with Sunderland, Price and Quintanilla each leading at some point. Quintanilla had opened up a handy lead over Sunderland, Benevides, Soultrait and Price by CP6, the second-last checkpoint, but lost six minutes on the final stretch to drop to fifth by the finish.
That put Sunderland into the overall lead from Benavides, Quintania, Price, Brabec and Walkner.
Top lady rider Laia Sanz (KTM) put in a solid ride to finish 15th, exactly 12 minures behind Sunderland, and move up three places to 17th overall.
A long day in the dunes
The South African riders had a hard day, with Donovan van der Langeberg (KTM) passing David Thomas (Husqvarna) late in the day to finsh 59th on the stage, moving up eight places overall from 74th to 66th, while Thomas was 63rd for the day, and moved up two spots overall, from 61st to 59th.
Willem du Toit (KTM) was 69th at the finish, gaining six places to slot in at 67th overall overall, while Gerry van der Byl (KTM) had his best day yet on the Dakar, finishing Stage 3 118th and moving up four places to 120th overall, and Wessel Bosman came in 122nd and second-last, more than five hours behind Sunderland, dropping one place to 121st overall, after eight and a half hours in the dunes.
Tuesday's fourth stage starts and ends in San Juan de Marcona and includes one of the longest sandy sections in the history of the Dakar. It will feature a novel start with four cars at a time lining up next to each other on the beach. When the flag drops, a mad dash for the first corner - nearly 40 km down the beach - will ensue, making for very exciting viewing.
The stage is 330km long, with a 114km liaison to the start. More than half the route will be on soft sand, with 20 percent on dirt tracks and the balance over really rough and rocky terrain.
IOL Motoring and Reuters