Joan Roma of Spain won the third stage of the Dakar Rally on Tuesday, while Krzysztof Holowczyc of Poland led overall.
Frenchman Cyril Despres won the motorcycle stage to claim first place overall.
His compatriot, Sebastien Coue, was in critical condition after crashing during the second stage. Coue was found in sand dunes in western Argentina and hospital officials said it was not clear how long he had been unconscious and exposed to temperatures above 40oC.
The Dakar Rally, considered one of the most dangerous in motor sports, has already claimed three lives this year. Argentine bike rider Jorge Martinez Boero died in a crash in Sunday’s first stage. On the same day, the pilot of an ultralight plane and his son died when the aircraft went down while following the race.
Roma, driving a Mini, won the 208km special stage from San Rafael to San Juan in central Argentina in 2 hours, 26 minutes, 51 seconds.
He was 1 minute, 9 seconds ahead of Holowczyc and 1 minute, 29 seconds in front of last year’s overall winner in cars, Nasser al-Attiyah, who is driving a Hummer.
Holowczyc, also in a Mini, led the overall standings by 54 seconds in front of the US’ Robby Gordon in a Hummer. Giniel de Villiers of South Africa is 1 minute, 40 seconds behind the leader in his Toyota.
In bikes, Despres took the 270km special stage in 3 hours, 48 minutes, 38 seconds. The KTM rider finished 8 minute, 37 seconds in front of Frans Verhoeven of the Netherlands on a Sherco, and 8 minute, 39 seconds faster than Portuguese driver Paulo Goncalves on a Husqvarna.
Defending bike champion Marc Coma of Spain, the leader after stage two, made a navigational error — losing himself on the route — and finished in seventh place, 13 minutes, 4 seconds behind KTM teammate Despres.
In the overall standings in bikes, Despres leads Coma by 10 minutes, 12 seconds. French rider David Casteu is third on his Yamaha, 17 minutes, 16 seconds behind.
This is the fourth consecutive year the event is being held in South America.
The route this year is different to the first three, which were loop courses from Buenos Aires to Chile and then back to Buenos Aires.
This year the race begins in Argentina, passes through Chile and finishes in Lima, Peru, on Jan. 15.