Santiago, Chile: Stephane Peterhansel boosted his lead in the Dakar Rally to 10 minutes after a fifth stage won by teammate Nani Roma on Wednesday.
Peterhansel’s Mini finished second to Roma’s on the relatively short 172km stage on the Peru side of the border with Chile. After enduring sand dunes since the race started on Saturday, drivers sprinted through rocky sections, riverbeds and canyons.
The motorbikes navigated a different 136km route from Arequipa toward the Pacific coast, and Olivier Pain became the first rider to hold on to the overall lead. Only six minutes separate the leading trio, all of them Frenchmen.
The favoured Minis of the X-raid team dominated the cars’ stage, with three in the top five. Roma beat Peterhansel home by 1 minute 23 seconds, and Leonid Novitskiy was fifth. Robby Gordon, whose Hummer was on its roof on Tuesday, finished third and the consistent Giniel de Villiers raced his Toyota to fourth.
Nasser Al Attiyah, who won the previous two stages, was six minutes behind in seventh in his buggy after a slight navigation error but remained second overall to Peterhansel. De Villiers was third overall but 33:50 off the lead, and only four minutes ahead of Novitskiy and Roma.
“It was tough and essential to find the right course,” Peterhansel said. “Mind you, I had a good hare to follow with Nasser up ahead who was making good tracks.”
On the bikes’ stage, Pain and David Casteu opened the trail on their Yamahas and expertly held their lead. Casteu edged out Pain by a minute for his third career stage victory, followed two minutes later by Juan Pedrero of Spain.
“Winning at the start of the rally when all the riders are still in it, it’s really great,” Casteu said. “At the end of the Dakar, it can be argued that other riders relax and manage their position. When you win like that with all these riders who’ve got the bit between their teeth, it’s good.”
The order was swapped in the overall, with Pain leading Casteu and defending champion Cyril Despres, who was fifth on the stage, third just over six minutes back.
“I wanted to avoid making a mistake so that people wouldn’t say, ‘He got caught out because he got too big for his boots,’” Pain said. “It was a nice stage to ride and I’m still leader. That makes it two days running now.”
Any chance of winning the title virtually ended for Joan Barreda Bort, who won two previous stages. He was held up by a fuel pump problem 100 kilometres in and dropped three hours off the lead.
The long sixth stage on Thursday will be the first in Chile, with riders heading into the Atacama Desert.