Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah seized control of the Dakar Rally on Sunday as an investigation into the horror crash that claimed the life of a 28-year-old spectator continued.
Al-Attiyah, driving a Volkswagen, won the second stage, a 355km timed run from Cordoba, to take a 1 minute, 19 seconds overall lead over teammate Carlos Sainz of Spain, who was fourth on the day.
It was an early boost for the Qatari driver, whose race last year ended in controversy when he was disqualified while leading the race.
France’s Guerlin Chicherit, in a BMW, was second on the stage followed by three more Volkswagen drivers — Carlos Neves, Sainz and Mark Miller.
Six-time motorcycle winner and three-time auto champion Stephane Peterhansel of France, in a BMW, was sixth on the day and third overall.
Spain’s Nani Roma, in a BMW, who won Saturday’s opening stage, lost 15 minutes on Sunday after suffering a double-roll and finished in 18th spot to be in eighth place overall.
“We caught up with Stephane after 150km. We kept a modest pace for a while then it became very technical. That’s where we attacked before ending up in Carlos’ dust,” al-Attiyah said. “From then on we kept up a good rhythm. Everything is going great. The conditions were pretty difficult — there was rain, fog, a bit of everything.”
France’s David Fretigne on a Yamaha won the motorcycling stage, while compatriot David Casteu of Sherco retained the overall lead after coming in second, 43 seconds adrift.
Spain’s Marc Coma, the winner last year and in 2006, finished third, but was then penalized 22 minutes for speeding, a sanction which relegated him to 14th overall.
“It was a really tough special stage, very technical,” Casteau said. “The trail was very slippery and there are animals everywhere. I even crossed path with two cars going in the opposite direction.”
Meanwhile, Germany’s Mirco Schultis and Swiss teammate Ulrich Leardi, whose car accidentally ploughed into a group of spectators, killing a female fan, didn’t start Sunday’s second stage.
The duo’s 4x4 vehicle came off the track and smashed into spectators who are believed to have strayed from a designated safe-viewing area near the town of Rio Cuarto, around 800km from Buenos Aires on Saturday.
Sonia Natalia Gallardo, 28, who suffered serious head, pelvic and stomach injuries in the incident, died in a Cordoba hospital while four others were hurt.
Schultis and Leardi hit a group of fans who “were in a non-authorized sector, a private area,” Cordoba police chief Julio Cesar Berrocal said.
“Three vehicles came around a corner and two of them tried to get round. But the dust cloud kicked up by them prevented the third [Schultis and Leardi’s 4x4] from seeing clearly and they came off the track,” he said.
After three deaths last year, which involved French motorcyclist Pascal Terry and two truck staff, extra security measures were introduced for this year.
Five “public zones” were set-up along the route of the first stage, which were planned to provide a safe viewing area for spectators. In all, there are 57 such areas set aside on the event’s 14 stages.