Carlos Sainz tightened his grip on the 2018 Dakar with only three stages to go - but it's not over until they get to Cordoba on Saturday. Picture: Ricardo Mazalan / AP

Chilecito, Argentina - Peugeot's Carlos Sainz has stretched his Dakar Rally lead to more than an hour after organisers rescinded a 10-minute penalty imposed earlier in the week for an incident with a quad.

The former double world rally champion, and father of the Formula One driver of the same name, finished third for Peugeot in the 281km 11th stage from Belen to the sands of Fiambala and Chilecito in Argentina, which was won by Toyota Gazoo Racing SA's Bernhard ten Brinke, with Cyril Depres in the ''water carrier' Peugeot second.

Depres is competely out of contention for the win, almost 45 hours behind the leaders, and is acting as back-up for Peugeot team-mates Sainz and 13 times champion Stephane Peterhansel.

Sainz had started the day 50 minutes clear but, despite the top four finishing within 15 seconds of each other, gained another 10 minutes thanks to the stewards.That left him an hour and 45 seconds clear of Peterhansel, with Toyota's former double Dakar winner Nasser al-Attiyah third overall, an hour and 24 minutes off the pace, with only three stages remaining.

'I didn't hit anybody!'

Peugeot Sport head Bruno Famin said: "Carlos now has a comfortable lead and Stephane is covering him in second place. But there’s still a long way to go to the finish and we have to get to Cordoba with no drama, which is never a given."

Dutch rider Kees Koolen had claimed on Monday that Sainz had hit his machine on a previous stage and failed to stop, with the stewards penalising the Spaniard. Sainz had angrily denied any contact was made and Peugeot had backed him up.

Famin said: "We appreciate the stewards looking into this again, and re-examining all the documents and other evidence at their disposal.

"We supplied them with a certain amount of data, relating to the speed and movement of the car. They were able to compare that to the tracking and ascertain that Carlos’s point of view was the correct one - of which we never had any doubt."

Bernhard ten Brinke took his first stage win on one of the Dakar's most difficult stages. Picture: MCH Photo

The three works Peugeots came in together, less than five minutes behind Ten Brinke, with Al-Attiyah a minute further adrift and South African Dakar star Giniel de Villiers sixth, 12 minutes behind Ten Brinke.

“We had a fantastic stage today,” said Ten Brinke after nearly 12 hours on the road. “We had a good starting position, which meant we had some tracks to follow throughout the stage. When we caught up with Giniel, we followed him for a large part of the stage, and this really helped me to see what was coming. In the end, it is a fantastic feeling to win one of the toughest stages on the Dakar.”

De Villiers said: “We were the second car into today’s stage, which made it really tricky to find the way - plus we got stuck on camel grass for a short while. Under the circumstances, it was much safer to ease up a little to ensure we didn’t miss any waypoints.”

Ford V8-powered TreasuryOne Amarok was running 30th overall with three stages to go. Picture: Dias / Dakar via motorsportmedia.co.za

 South African Dakar rookie Hennie de Klerk brought his homegrown Ford V8-powered TreasuryOne Amarok home 29th among the cars on Monday to move up to 30th overall and second among the five rookie entries remaining in the race, of 17 starters.

“We have three days to go to the finish - just under 1000km of racing, so anything can still happen,“ said De Klerk. “The whole point was to finish at our first attempt and so far so good - but the Dakar still has a sting in the tail.

“Thursday and Friday make up another marathon stage with no servicing after 480km of hard going on Thursday and another 380km on Friday, before the final overnight at Cordoba. It’s important to get through without a problem and that’s the next objective.”

Motorcycles

2016 Dakar winner Toby Price took his first stage win of 2018. Picture: Ricardo Mazalan / AP

Almost as if they had a point to prove, Stage 11 was dominated by the riders who got so horribly lost the day before. Australian Toby Price, the 2016 champion, took his first stage win of 2018, and moved up two places to third overall, 39m17s behind KTM factory team-mate and overall leader Matthias Walkner.

He came in 1m38sc ahead of Honda’s local hero Kevin Benafides, who put in a scorching ride to take eight minutes out of Walkner, cutting his overall lead to 32 minutes. Walkner, meanwhile, found himself riding alongside Stephane Peterhansel’s Peugeot, which he could pass in the dunes but which was quicker on the gravel sections.

So he slotted in behind the buggy and let Peterhansel’s vastly experienced navigator Jean-Paul Cottret do all the hard work, coming in fifth behind team-mate Antoine Meo and Honda’s Ricky Brabec.

Sadly Honda hard man Joan Barreda Bort had to throw in the towel, calling for medical assistance in mid-stages for the knee injury he suffered on Stage 7; after an heroic four stages, he was simply unable to continue.

Laia Sanz - there's steel behind the smile. Picture: Li Ming / Xinhua

Tall, elegant Laia Sanz looks like a supermodel in T-shirt and shorts around the bivouac but there's steel behind the smile. The multiple world trials and enduro champion took a huge tumble from her KTM 450 on Stage 10, followed by not one but two high-speed crashes in the dunes on Stage 11, costing her 44 minutes - yet she still moved up two places to 13th overall.

Top South African David Thomas (Husqvarna) put in by far his best stage ride of the 2018 Dakar, finishing 27th for the day (his previous benchmark was 45th on Stage 7) to move up five places to 38th overall, while Willem du Toit held onto his 56th place overall with a determined ride to 73rd on the stage.

Malle Moto gladiator Donovan van de Langeberg (KTM), however, battled on Stage 11, picking up an eight-minute penalty along the way to finish 76th on the day, but dropped only one place to 55th overall, while Gerry van der Byl (KTM), who was omitted from the Stage 10 results because he came in after timing closed, found a little something extra for Wednesday and finished Stage 11 83rd of 86 survivors - but remained stone last overall.

Preview

Thursday's 12th stage is from Fiambala to San Juan with a 375km timed leg and 348km of liaison.

IOL Motoring and Reuters

Results - Stage 11