Uyuni, Bolivia - Carlos Sainz has taken the lead in the Dakar Rally from Peugeot team-mate Stephane Peterhansel after the defending champion struck a rock and lost an hour and 45 minutes repairing his car.
Sainz, father of the Formula One driver of the same name, won the 425km timed section of the 727km seventh stage from La Paz to Uyuni on Saturday to lead Toyota’s Nasser al-Attiyah by 71 minutes overall.
Peterhansel, who had been 27 minutes ahead of Sainz after leading the rally from Peru into Bolivia, hit trouble while trying to overtake a motorcycle at the 186km mark and came to a halt. The Peugeot’s left rear wheel, upper suspension link, shock absorber and radiator were all damaged.
It could not have happened at a worse time because Stage 7 was the first half of the rally's marathon stage. No service crews are permitted at the Uyuni bivouac and the competitors will not have access to spare parts (other than what they carry on board) until they reach Tipuza at the end of Stage 8.
Call a friend
Peterhansel was helped back on the road by team mate and five-times Dakar winner Cyril-Despres, who had long dropped out of contention for the overall victory, using parts from Depres' car. It says a lot for the two Peugeot crews that they rebuilt the car's left rear suspension in the mud, in the middle of nowhere, in less than two hours and that Peterhansel was able to to run at full race pace afterwards. He finished the stage third overall, an hour and 20 minutes off the lead.
Despres also managed to lash his car back together and finish the stage, three hours behind the leaders, after eight hours on the road.
Peugeot, which is pulling out of the South American event after this year, will now be hoping 2010 Dakar winner and former double world rally champion Sainz keeps out of trouble in motorsport’s most gruelling endurance test.
Toyotas second and third
Best of the Toyota Gazoo Racing SA’s Hiluxes on Stage 7 was Giniel de Villiers, who posted the second fastest time of the day, only 12m05s behind Sainz. That moved him up to fourth overall, just eight seconds behind Peterhansel.
“It was a much tougher stage than we expected,” said De Villiers from Uyuni. “But we had a clean run, and we’re happy to have made it safely to Uyuni. We don’t have much to do tonight in terms of prepping the car for Stage 8, which is exactly what we wanted for the marathon stage.”
Al-Attiyah posted the third fastest time on Stage 7, some 14 minutes behind Sainz, and moved up to second overall.
“It was a pretty good day for us,” said Al Attiyah after the stage. “But we did get stuck on some camel grass for a while, and had a puncture after that - so it could still have gone better. Even so we are happy to have moved into second place.”
'We couldn't see where were going'
Dutch driver Bernhard ten Brinke, third overall after six stages, was the seventh car on the road for Stage 7 - but the marathon stage bit hard, as they experienced problems with the wiper motor switch.
“The thick mud on the stage really caused problems for us, because we couldn’t clear the windscreen,” explained Ten Brinke from Uyuni. “To make matters worse, we ended up stuck in a ditch for a while, because we couldn’t see where we were going.”
He was helped out of his predicament by fellow Toyota Hilux crew Lucio Alvarez and South African navigator Rob Howie, and were soon back on the road. However, his misfortune cost him them half an hour and he trailed home seventh behind Jakub Przygonski’s Mini, Czech driver Martin Prokop’s Ford and Alvarez.
South African privateer Hennie de Klerk powered the TreasuryOne Amarok out of sector 5 in 20th, but ran into trouble in sector 6, where he spent more than four hours before coming through Waypoint 6. As of early on Sunday morning he was not listed in the results for Stage 7, which did not bode well - but he was also not listed among the retirements; we’ll keep you posted.
French Yamaha rider Adrien van Beveren put in a superb ride to reclaim the overall lead from Argentina’s Kevin Benavides, on a Honda. At the end of the day Van Beveren was 3m14s clear of his rival in the overall standings.
But the honours for the day belonged to factory Honda rider Joan Barreda Bort, who set a cracking pace from the start, and was leading the stage when he took a nasty tumble in a mud-puddle, injuring his left knee. Despite the pain, he remounted and and rode another 100km to win the stage by almost three minutes from Van Beveren and Benavides, and retain his third place overall.
Afterwards, however, he was unable to walk without assistance, and may not be able to continue.
The unstoppable Laia Sanz (KTM), arguably the world's top female off-road rider with more than a dozen world championships on her resume, finished the day 19th but dropped one place to 18th overall.
The only other lady riders in the motorcycle category are Gabriela Novotna (Husqvarna), way down in 83rd overall after finishing 94th on Stage 7, and Rosa Romero Font, 68th overall after finishing 78th for the day. At least she's still running, which is more than can be said of her husband, 2014 Dakar winner Juan 'Nani' Roma, who rolled his X-Raid diesel Mini in spectacular fashion less than a kilometre from the end of Stage 3 while running 10th overall and wound up in hospital.
Playing in the mud
The South African riders seem to like playing in the mud; all four survivors posted their best results of the rally so far. 41-year-old Capetonian David Thomas (Husqvarna), finished 47th for the day and moved up four places to 45th overall, while Donovan van de Langeberg (KTM) finished the stage in 55th and moving up an impressive 14 places to 58th overall.
Wilem Du Toit (KTM) made up five places to 60th overall after finishing 60th on Stage 7, while Gerry van der Byl (KTM) was 96th of 100 finishers for the day but still stone last overall.
Sunday’s 585km Stage 8, the second half of the marathon, includes the longest special of the rally, a 498km timed section from Uyuni to the Bolivian city of Tupiza, where the racers will be reunited with their service crews.
The racing stage consists of a mix of surfaces, including 15 percent sand and nearly 80 percent gravel tracks, all of it at an altitude of more than 3500 metres, higher than the highest mountain peak in South Africa, Mafadi Peak on the Lesotho border.