Wednesday's 331km Dakar stage run through the arid wastes between San Juan de Marcona and Arequipa proved decisive as it tested competitors to the limit on track and by the road book as the epic race claimed some major scalps too.
On a day where Dakar legends, Frenchman Stephane Peterhansel’s Mini and Qatari Nasser Al Attiyah's Toyota fought for the lead, there were tears for their principal rivals as Giniel de Villers’ leading Toyota and Carlos Sainz’ Mini both hit rocks and stopped, Sebastien Loeb’s Peugeot and Cyril Despres’ Mini got lost and Bernhard Ten Brinke struggled for pace in the third Toyota to leave the Minis of Saudi Yaseen Al Rajhi and Pole Jakub Przygonski to follow the leaders home.
Al Attiyah came out of the blocks charging Wednesday morning to lead the way early on, but Mr. Dakar Peterhansel had other ideas as he overcame a slow opening sector to match Attiyah’s pace to the second waypoint and he moved ahead of the Qatari by the third point. Loeb had kept a watching brief in third ahead of de Villiers, but Loeb lost time on navigation, Bernhard Ten Brinke’s second-placed Hilux lost time to the leaders and de Villiers and Sainz both ground to a halt,
That left Peterhansel in control as he strolled in for a three and a half minute stage win over Al Attiyah, Przygonski, Roma Al Rajhi and Despres, as Al Attiyah moved into the overall lead by almost seven minutes over Al Rajhi with Peterhansel close behind in third from Roma, Przygonski and Despres.
South African car crew Shameer Variawa and Zaheer Bodhanya had the bit between their teeth on Wednesday, the Dakar rookies making amends for losing an hour on Tuesday with a great first sector to jump from 66th to 42nd in SVR Red Lined Nissan Navara at the time of writing.
Californian Ricky Brabec powered his Honda into an early bike lead, but came under pressure from Yamaha’s Marquis Xavier de Soultrait, who moved into the lead at mid-distance and managed to avoid the navigation issues that beset many others including Brabec, the KTMs of Austria’s 2018 winner Matthias Walkner, Brit Sam Sunderland and Aussie Toby Price, while overall leader Joan Barreda’s Honda was stopped at the roadside.
That left Soultrait to hold on to win his first Dakar stage, just 15 seconds clear of charging Chilean Husqvarna rider Pablo Quintanilla, Argentine Kevin Benavides’ Honda and Yamaha-mounted Frenchman Adrien van Beveren. The overall motorcycle standings were also turned on their head with Quintanilla in an 11-minute lead over Benavides, Sunderland, van Beveren, Price and Soultrait.
Multiple South African champion Dakar rookies, Pretoria’s Kenny Gilbert on a Husqvarna and Botswana KTM rider Ross Branch both had an exceptional day running among the world’s best in the top 25 before Branch came home 24th and Gilbert 27th, to move up to second and fourth among the rookies and 25th and 28th overall.
South African Original class biker Stuart Gregory (KTM) was making best of tough conditions as he continued with the challenge to finish the Dakar on his own without service and was enjoying another good ride on Wednesday after coming in 12th among the ‘Malle Moto’ riders to move up to 12th overall in that iron man class.
The trucks and quads were once again still in the stage at the time of writing, however Argentine Nicolas Cavigliasso won Tuesday’s quad stage from countryman Gustavo Gallego and Frenchman Alexantré Giroud. Russia’s Eduard Nikolaiev took his Kamaz to his second stage victory on the trot over Iveco Dutch driver and Dimitri Sotnikov in another Kamaz on Tuesday, while South African crew member Sean Berriman’s MAN ended 18th driven by German Mathias Beringher.
Dakar 2019 moves up a gear on Thursday’s 405km stage from Arequipa to Takna for the cars, which split up with the bikes that will overnight in Moquegua. Thursday is the first day of the marathon stage, meaning no service overnight for the crews before the second half on Friday...