Spanish Volkswagen driver and former world rally champion Carlos Sainz and compatriot Marc Coma are setting the pace after the opening three stages of the Dakar Rally — although Qatar’s Nasser al-Attiyah (BMW) pipped Sainz to Monday’s special.
Al-Attiyah nipped in by 35 seconds to take the honors following a 551km special from Puerto Madryn to Jacobacci.
Volkswagen’s Sainz nonetheless leads the Qatari by three minutes, 40 seconds.
However, al-Attiyah was delighted to have made up some of the ground he lost on Sunday when he lost over six minutes to Sainz.
“Today [Monday], I had to attack,” the Qatari said. “I lost a lot of time on Sunday so I had to take that into account and push hard. Now, I know that Carlos and I will be playing the game. Tomorrow [Tuesday], he will start behind me and I’m sure he will be putting the pressure on pretty quickly in the race.”
Germany’s Dieter Depping was third on the day, one minute, 40 seconds off the pace.
In the overall standings, South Africa’s Volkswagen driver Giniel De Villiers stands third five minutes and 45 seconds behind Sainz after finishing fourth in the stage.
Mitsubishi’s Luc Alphand — the champion in 2006 — suffered technical problems to lose ground on the leading group as he suffered a petrol leak which cost him over half-an-hour.
Spain’s Marc Coma of KTM won the third motorcycle stage as fellow KTM rider Cyril Despres, who won the event in 2005 and 2007, lost more ground.
Coma saw off KTM pair Norwegian Pal Anders Ullevalseter and Spaniard Jordi Viladoms by 17 minutes, 49 seconds.
Despres is languishing in 33rd spot after a dreadful start and the Frenchman now trails Coma by more than an hour and a half.
He had problems with his tires on Monday which were exacerbated as he feared he had a hernia, so went only 60kph for the final few kilometers.
Coma has established a 39 minutes and 11 seconds lead over Frenchman David Fretigne (Yamaha) and leads Dutchman Frans Verhoeven (KTM) by 41 minutes, 14 seconds.
Coma, though, warned that because of the tough conditions many riders could face the same problems as Despres.
“The bikes are suffering a lot, and the tires are suffering even more,” admitted Coma.
“For now we are staying out of trouble. Each one has his own strategy and we are doing fine with ours,” he said.
This year’s edition of the grueling race has been switched from Africa to Argentina and Chile because of security fears. It features 540 competitors from 50 countries and covers 9,000km spread over 13 stages — three in Chile and 10 in Argentina — with the finish scheduled for Buenos Aires next Sunday.
Last year’s Dakar, which was to have started in Lisbon before heading to Africa, was canceled the day before the scheduled start because of specific terrorist threats made against the event. It was the first cancellation in the history of the race since its inception in 1979 due to security concerns after four French tourists were murdered in Mauritania.