San Juan de Mercona, Peru - Defending champion Stephane Peterhansel doubled his lead in the Dakar Rally to nearly seven minutes on Tuesday after an eventful fourth stage that claimed 2017 motorcycle winner Sam Sunderland.
The 330km timed section, out into the desert dunes and back to the Pacific Port of San Juan de Mercona, was won by Peterhansel's Peugeot team-mate and fellow Frenchman Sebastien Loeb.
The nine times world rally champion moved up to second place overall from fourth, 6m55s Peterhansel, with Carlos Sainz third in a one-two-three for Peugeot.
Cyril Despres, who had led after the second stage, saw his chances of winning a sixth title after five on bikes effectively disappear when he broke a rear wheel on his Peugeot and had to wait for assistance.
No sooner had Despres stopped than Toyota Gazoo Racing SA team-mates Nasser Al Attiyah and Giniel de Villiers ran into trouble with both Hiluxes stopped on the route; Al-Attiyah lost 54 minutes and De Villiers 1 hour 15 minutes, dropping him from fifth to eighth overall.
Toyota Gazoo Racing SA's Nasser al-Attiyah, a double former Dakar winner and leader after the opening day, dropped to 58 minutes adrift of 13 times winner Peterhansel, who was third in the stage.
"It was a very difficult day," said Al-Attiyah after the stage. "We had two flat tyres at the beginning and afterwards we took care because we didn’t have any spares.
"At the first dunes, we went into a big hole and got stuck for 30 minutes, before it happened a second time. We lost pressure in one of the tyres. We tried to put air back in and we were stuck again for 30 or 20 minutes."
That left the door open for Mikko Hirvonen to take a welcome fourth for Mini ahead of the surprise of the day, Italian Eugenio Amos in his 2WD buggy, Sheik Al Qassimi’s privateer Peugeot, Lucio Alvares and South African navigator Rob Howie in their Hilux and the leading Gazoo Toyota SA Hilux of Dutch driver Bernhard ten Brinke.
Away from the madness up front, South African privateer Hennie de Klerk was still keeping to his promise of delivering a consistent Dakar drive, keeping the TreasuryOne Amarok around 39th position for most of the day. He dropped back towards the end of the stage, however, to finish 47th for the day, droping three positions to 34th overall.
Peterhansel now leads Loeb and Sainz overall, with Al Attiyah fourth ahead of Ten Brinke, Amos, Al Qassini and De Villiers still eighth despite his problems in the stage.
Peterhansel also suffered low tyre pressure and had to stop and make a change, losing several minutes. He then made a navigation error towards the end.
Sam Sunderland's Dakar Rally title defence ended on Tuesday after the 2017 winner crashed in Peru's Ica desert while leading the race. The Dubai-based 28-year-old was evacuated back to the bivouac, the rally's travelling support centre, by helicopter.
Organisers said Sunderland, who had won two of the first three stages on his KTM, had been ruled out of further participation after hurting his back in the fall. He had led by more than four-and-a-half minutes going into the 330km fourth stage in the dunes around the Pacific port of San Juan de Marcona.
Sunderland's exit meant that French rider Adrien van Beveren took the overall lead, 1m55s clear of Chilean Pablo Quintanilla, after winning the stage by more than five minutes from Yamaha team-mate and compatriot Xavier de Soultrait, with KTM’s Matthias Walkner third, while Argentinian Pablo Quintanila moved his Husqvarna up to fourth for the day from KTM riders Stefan Svitko and Daniel Oliveiras Carreras.On a stage where navigation proved to be the name of the game, with wild fluctuations in positions throughout the motorcycle field from checkpoint to checkpoint, it was a tough day for Honda’s Joan Barreda Bort, who lost 10 minutes in the final sector to tumble down to ninth for the day and 13th overall, while 2016 winner Toby Price (KTM) finished 15th for the day and dropped two places, from fourth to sixth overall.
The day’s result completely reshuffled the overall positions among the bikes, with stage winner Van Beveren bouncing up from seventh to take the overall lead from Quintanilla, Honda’s Kevin Benavides, Walkner, Soultrait and Price.
The commotion was good to the South African riders, however - David Thomas (Husqvarna) came in 43rd on the stage and bounced up from 59th overall to 51st, while Willem du Toit (KTM) finished 73rd on the stage and gained one position to 67th overall. Donovan van de Langeberg finished 78th for the day but dropped only one place overall, to 68th, Wessel Bosman (KTM) came in 114th and moved up seven places to 114th overall and Gerry van der Byl (KTM) finished stone last (of 117 survivors from 137 starters) and still moved up three places from 119th to 116th overall.
Wednesday’s split Stage 5 from San Juan de Marcona to Arequipa, on the last full day in Peru before heading for Bolivia, sees the bikes and quads taking a separate 508km route with a 266km special stage, while the cars and trucks tackle a longer 666km route, starting first thing in the morning with 268km of racing over the mountainous sands of Tanaka.
IOL Motoring and Reuters