Peterhansel takes lead in Dakar Rally

France’s Stephane Peterhansel moved into the overall lead in the Dakar Rally after the BMW driver won the third stage in the car category on Monday.

Spain’s Carlos Sainz, driving a VW, finished nearly six minutes down on Peterhansel on the stage from La Rioja to Fiambala in north central Argentina to stay second overall. Qatari driver Nasser Al-Attiyah slipped from first to third in the general standings after coming home more than 10 minutes off the pace in third place.

Frenchman Cyril Despres on a KTM took the overall lead in the motorbike category, winning the stage ahead of Portuguese rider Helder Rodrigues on a Yamaha and countryman Paulo Goncalves on a BMW. France’s David Casteu was fourth on a Sherco and moved into second overall, a place ahead of Rodrigues.

“For the moment I’m not interested in stage victories, I’m more bothered about outright victory in the general standings,” said Peterhansel, who has won the Dakar title six times on bikes and three times in cars.

“Today is a step along the road to victory. We’ll see what the rest of the race has in store.”

Sainz, a two-time World Rally champion, said he played it safe.

“It was difficult today,” he said. “We had a few problems due to the engine heating and it’s harder to get through in those conditions. We tried to attack but we didn’t take any risks. When Perterhansel overtook us, we tried to follow but he was going too fast.”

Despres was just happy to finish.

“It was a really African-like stage — physically tough with the heat, soft dunes and mechanical aspects to deal with,” he said.

“The bike suffered a bit on the first part, so I had to look after the engine. It was a very complicated day.”

Casteu was the overall leader after two stages, which meant he started first — an honour he could have done without.

“Being the first to start is always a bit dangerous,” he said.

“There are animals everywhere. I even crossed with two cars going in the opposite direction. But this is part of what a rally race is all about. There are always risks because it’s impossible to fence out 300km of trails. But still, I had two really close calls.”

Four people were injured when a helicopter following the rally crashed, but none of the injuries was reported to be life-threatening. Officials said the helicopter lost lift because of strong winds in the area.

On Saturday a 28-year-old woman watching the rally was killed when she was struck by a 4×4 vehicle that veered off the course.

The gruelling race is considered one of the most dangerous in motorsports.

Tuesday’s fourth stage takes the riders from Fiambala in Argentina, through a pass in the Andes to Copiapo on the Chilean side of the border.

The rally was moved to South America in 2009 because of safety concerns and the possibility of a terrorist attack in Africa. It wraps up its 9 000km journey on January 16 in Buenos Aires. – Sapa-AP

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