Frenchman Sebastien Loeb claimed victory in the second stage of the Dakar Rally raced across challenging desert dunes Tuesday, as main rivals Stephane Peterhansel and Nasser Al-Attiyah had days to forget.
Nine-time world rally champion Loeb, driving a private Peugeot entry after the French car manufacturer’s decision to withdraw from the race, held off the Mini of Nani Roma over the last kilometres of the second of ten stages between Pisco and San Juan de Marcona to win by eight seconds.
Yet, more often than not, the gruelling race rewards consistency more than stage wins.
That was the case with South Africa’s Giniel de Villiers, whose fourth place finish means he takes the overall lead.
“Today it all came right and we feel really good about it,” said Loeb who climbs to fifth overall at 1min 56sec.
“It was a tricky stage, you need to know when to attack and when to play it straight. We didn’t make up that much time in the end.”
“But we got the right strategy. We raced a great special and made no mistakes,” said the 44-year-old, who saw multiple rivals suffer technical or tactical hiccups.
“I needed to get into the swing because I have done almost no test drives here, less than 100km since the last edition.”
Dutchman Bernhard ten Brinke, driving a Toyota, was third at 1min 20sec.
Frenchman Peterhansel, who has won the Dakar six times on the motorbike and seven times in a car, paid the price after running his Mini aground for 20 minutes in the dunes, eventually finishing 15 minutes behind Loeb.
“I got stuck in a dune and if it hadn’t been for Cyril (Despres, a fellow Frenchman and Mini driver) pulling us with a rope I’d still be stuck there,” Peterhansel joked afterwards.
“In fact we had all kinds of teething problems, the wipers didn’t work and the air-con was broken, so it was a stressful day.”
Peterhansel’s teammate Attiyah, a double Dakar winner in 2011 and 2015, saw his overnight lead disappear as he could only finish 11th, 7:37 off the pace.
Spain’s Joan Barreda of Honda came third in the motorbike section to stay ahead in the overall standings as defending champion Matthias Walkner of KTM edged Honda’s American Ricky Brabec by 22sec for the stage.
On Wednesday the route takes the drivers through a further 331km of specials, mainly in dunes again, between San Juan de Marcona and Arequipa.