Belen, Argentina - Reigning champion Stephane Peterhansel has won the 10th stage of the Dakar Rally in Argentina to take more precious minutes out of Peugeot team-mate Carlos Sainz's hefty overall lead.
Sainz was still smarting from a 10 minute penalty applied on Monday for an alleged collision with Dutch quad rider Kees Koolen. Peugeot has said it intends to appeal the sanction.
Peterhansel's third stage win of the event moved him up to second overall, but the 13 times Dakar winner was still 50 minutes behind Sainz with four stages remaining before the finish in Cordoba on Saturday.
"It was a really long day again and we tried to push," Peterhansel said. "We did not make any mistakes, but we are a little bit tired this evening. Today it was a really important stage...not easy, and I think tomorrow in Fiambala it will be the same."
Toyota Gazoo Racing SA's double Dakar winner Nasser al-Attiyah slipped to third overall in his Hilux, an hour and 12 minutes behind Sainz.
The day started as a straight fight between Peterhansel and Al-Attiyah, although 'Mr Dakar' gradually opened a gap on the Hilux to arrive at the neutralisation point 2m30s ahead, with Giniel de Villiers in the second works Toyota third, ahead of Sainz, whose advantage was down to 45 minutes over Al Attiyah and 50 over Peterhansel, following his penalty and thanks to the sheer pace of the second and third men.
De Villiers meanwhile closed right up to team-mate Bernhard ten Brinke in fourth overall.
Peterhansel duly came home to the stage win, but Al-Attiyah lost half an hour in the stage, allowing De Villiers grab second, 8.47 adrift of Peterhansel, followed by Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi in a privately entered Peugeot, Ten Brinke, Cyril Depres in the 'water carrier' Peugeot, and the delayed Al-Attiyah.
Peterhansel duly came home to the stage win, but Al-Attiyah lost half an hour in the stage, allowing De Villiers (despite suffering from an upset stomach early in the stage) to grab second, 8m47s adrift of Peterhansel, followed by Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi in a privately entered Peugeot, Ten Brinke, Cyril Depres in the 'water carrier' Peugeot, and the delayed Al-Attiyah.
“It was really tough out there today,” said De Villiers from the bivouac at Belen. “The dunes in this area are extremely tricky, and the camel grass makes it even worse. It’s also extremely tough on the body, and we’re glad to have made it safely to Belen.”
Things didn’t go quite as smoothly for De Villiers’ team-mate Bernhard ten Brinke; he lost time when he got stuck on a dune in the early part of the stage, and even more after suffering a puncture in a river bed - but still posted the fifth-fastest time on the stage and just held on to fourth overall.
"Belen is never an easy stage, and today was no exception,” Ten Brinke said. “The navigation was also very tricky, and we certainly lost some time to the Peugeots, but at this stage of the game we’re happy to be here, and still be in touch with the podium.”
For Al-Attiyah, Stage 10 was one to forget. He was running stromng just two minutes behind Peterhansel for most of the stage, but then things went wrong in the second timed section.
“We were going along at a good pace,” he said, “when suddenly the Hilux’s left rear suspension partially collapsed.
"I wasn’t immediately sure what caused it, but when we reached the bivouac the technical crew found we’d hit a rock somewhere, which did the damage.”
Limping home with the damaged suspension cost Al-Attiyah almost thirty minutes on the day, and dropped him one position to third overall, 22 minutes behind Peterhansel and 10 minutes clear of Ten Brinke, with De Villiers just 33 seconds further back in fourth overall. Expect fireworks.
Never-say-die Amarok rookie Hennie de Klerk, his TreasuryOne Amarok up and running properly again after some TLC from his crew at the Salta bivouac, enjoyed a good day at the office. He was running as high as 28th at one point and finished the stage 31st, moving up to 28th overall despite a four-hour penalty for being time-barred on Stage 7.
The day's biggest drama came in the motorcycle category, with French Yamaha rider Adrien van Beveren crashing out and handing the overall lead to KTM works rider Matthias Walkner. Walkner won the stage and took over at the top, leading Honda's Joan Barreda Bort by 39 minutes.
Everything went smoothly as far as a neutralisation point three-quarters of the way into the 373km special stage between Salta and Belen, despite temperatures rising to 43 degrees, with overnight leader Argentine home hero Kevin Benavides’ Honda leading the way, three minutes clear of KTM factory rider Toby Price, Van Beveren, who had started the day 22 seconds off the lead on his Yamaha, six minutes behind Benavides and ahead of works KTM team-mates Matthias Walkner and Antoine Meo, and Honda hero Joan Barreda Bort, still battling with a knee injury.
But almost immediately after racing resumed, first Benavides, Price and Meo, and then Barreda Bort, factory Honda team-mate Ricky Brabec and KTM’s Stefan Svitko all got horribly ost. Only Van Beveren and Walkner found the right road as the rest all lost more than 35 minutes, tumbling down the order and completely rewriting the leaderboard.
Then, just three kilometres away from a dominant stage win and retaking the overall lead, Van Beveren took a huge tumble in a dry riverbed, breaking his right collarbone and injuring his spine and thorax. There was no way he could get back on the bike (he tried - these guys are crazy!) and he was airlifted to hospital and out of the race
That left Walkner to take the stage win from local hero, Husqvarna factory rider Pablo Quintanilla, KTM privateer Gerard Farres Guell (who moved up from ninth to a career-best fourth overall) and a gaggle of lesser-known riders who had found the right way through the drama.
Top lady rider Laia Sanz suffered a rare crash in the sand, which cost her 20 minutes, but she didn’t get lost and came in 11th, albeit more than half an hour adrift of Walkner - and two minutes ahead of Barreda Bort, who finished 14 for the day but astonishingly, second overall, 39 minutes behind Walkner, with Benavides third, a further two minutes adrift.
Leading South African rider David Thomas (Husqvarna) finished 58th for the day and made up a further two places to 43rd overall, while malle moto tough guy Donovan van de Langeberg battled through to come in 61st and move up two spots to 53rd overall.
Willem du Toit (KTM) came in just 30 seconds later, 62nd for the day and also moving up two places overall, to 56th, but Gerry van der Byl, stone last on the road, was time-barred and didn’t appear in the results - but his name wasn’t on the dreaded withdrawals list and he may be back for Stage 11 on Wednesday.
Wednesday’s Stage 11 stretches between Belen and Chilecito via the feared dunes of Fiambalá – the scene of many upsets in previous Dakar rallies. The timed section is 280km long with 467km of liaison distance bringing the total for the day to 747km.
IOL Motoring and Reuters