Giniel de Villiers took the overall lead after the second stage, but it remains a close-fought race. AP Photo / Ricardo Mazalan.

Lima, Peru - South Africa’s Giniel de Villiers took the overall lead of the Dakar Rally after Tuesday’s second stage, although it was Sebastian Loeb that won the stage, which took competitors on a 553km adventure through the large dunes between Pisco and San Juan de Marcona.

A fourth placing in the stage was enough to secure De Villiers a narrow lead in the overall race, where he currently sits 28 seconds ahead of his Toyota Gazoo Racing SA team-mate Bernhard ten Brinke, but the Hilux drivers will have their work cut out in the third stage with the nine-time world rally champion Loeb breathing down their necks just 1m56s off the lead, albeit down in fifth place, with X-Raid Peugeot team-mates Nani Roma and Yazeed Al Rajhi sandwiched between them in third and fourth.

Loeb had started the day in 13th overall, and set a strong pace, even if he was almost reeled in by Roma towards the end.

"In the end, it was a good strategy, because it was advantageous for us to start behind the leaders, even if we were a bit further back than we would have liked," said the Frenchman.

"It was a good special (stage) with no major mistakes. I thought the pace was good. I'm getting a good feeling back, because I've only done about 100km of testing since the Dakar last year.”

Sebastien Loeb won the second stage, bringing him up to fifth overall. AP Photo / Ricardo Mazalan.

Good, clean stage for De Villiers

De Villiers, meanwhile, took a relatively cautious approach to the stage and it’s a mindset that could very well pay off in the long run.

“We had a good stage. We had a good start and we caught up after one hundred and twenty or one hundred and thirty kilometres with… well, at first I thought it was Yazeed, then I thought it was Vasilyev but then I saw it was Jakub. We were in his dust for about 200km. There was then a section in the dunes and I caught him, but then we got to a piece in the fesh-fesh where I had to fall back again, so it cost us a few minutes,” said De Villiers

“But, you know, at the end of the day, there is no point taking a risk on day two in the dust or in the fesh-fesh like that, so we just decided to stay there. I managed to pass him in the dunes in the end. It was all okay, there were no problems, we had a good clean stage and the car was very good”.

Al-Attiyah drops back

Gazoo team-mate, and overnight leader, Nasser Al-Attiyah opened the road for the rest and dropped back to eighth place, nearly three and a half minutes adrift of De Villiers. Defending champion Spaniard Carlos Sainz of Spain finished eighth in his X-Raid Mini after losing time with two punctures, and now sits sixth overall. Fellow Mini driver, Argentine Orlando Terranova, retired after crashing out halfway through the stage.

Stephane Peterhansel, a record 13 times Dakar winner, lost some 15 minutes after a lengthy stop in the dunes during the stage before Mini team-mate Cyril Despres came to the rescue.

Shameer Variawa in action. Picture: Motorsport Media.

SA rookie Shameer Variawa had a slow start to the stage in his SVR Red Lined Nissan Navara, while also suffering a few technical challenges, but in the end was able to move up from 75th to 67th in the overall classification.

“Our biggest problem is the dust - we started well back because of our rookie seeding and now we find ourselves passing all the time and it's often it’s pretty hair raising with such little visibility in the dust of the car ahead. It's a pity but today’s issue means we will have to do it all again tomorrow, but an even greater pity is that we really have not been able to show what the car is capable of. “So we will be patient - this is not a one-day game!” 

Walkner playing catch-up in bike race

Matthias Walkner (KTM) was the fastest two-wheeler in stage 2, moving him one place up the standings to trail overall leader Joan Barreda Bort by just 1m31s.

Matthias Walkner won the second stage. AP Photo / Ricardo Mazalan.

“I don’t know at the moment if it was such a good decision to push that much, because I have to look at how big the gaps are. I don’t think I caught up that much time, Walkner told Dakar.com.

“In the end, sure, it’s good to have a stage win. But there are still more long days coming. The cars were difficult to pass in some places. The cars were not dead fast; sometimes it was bad, so we had to overtake, but the most difficult was the fesh-fesh getting really loose. Sometimes with the bikes it was so deep that you can’t miss some stones, so it was quite dangerous at times, but it was fun”.

As for the Southern African entrants, Botswana’s Ross Branch (KTM) came 22nd and SA’s Kenneth Gilbert (Husqvarna) finished 42nd, the pair now lying 30th and 40th overall.

Sources: Reuters, Dakar.com & Motorsport Media