Former winner Carlos Sainz claimed the fourth stage of the Dakar Rally and the overall lead on Wednesday, with defending champion Stephane Peterhansel in second despite enduring a second successive day of punctures.
SMG Buggy driver Sainz, the 2010 Dakar champion, finished more than six minutes ahead of Frenchman Peterhansel, an 11-time winner on four wheels and two, with Qatar’s Nasser al-Attiyah, the 2011 victor, coming home in third place on the run from San Juan to Chilecito.
It was Sainz’s 26th career stage win on the grueling event and gave him an overall advantage of 2 minutes, 6 seconds on overnight leader Nani Roma in a Mini.
Al-Attiyah, also in a Mini, is 6:56 minutes behind Sainz.
Peterhansel clawed back a few minutes after a disastrous third stage on Tuesday saw him suffer six punctures in his Mini, but he remains 18:10 minutes behind Sainz.
“At the beginning we had to drive in the dust, but little by little we managed to overtake several cars,” Sainz said. “We also got a bit lucky when, about 10km before the finish, our power steering broke down in a narrow spot amid all the vegetation, but we easily made it to the finish all the same.”
“In the second part there was a waypoint where we went right, but after a while we realized it had to be on the other side, so we headed left and we found it. No big deal, I think everyone made the same mistake,” he added.
Peterhansel said his hopes had been dashed by yet another puncture.
“Things didn’t start very well this morning. We had a flat tire after 30km. Not the best way to start the day,” the Frenchman said. “So we decided to set a consistent pace to try and avoid making mistakes. Toward the end, there was a waypoint that was quite hard to find, but we went the right way from the beginning by U-turning to look in the right direction, which helped us not to lose too much time. And, in the end, we did quite well.”
In the motorcycle section, Spain’s Juan Pedrero took the stage honors, while Frenchman Cyril Despres, the defending champion and seeking a sixth career title, was the victim of an engine breakdown on his Yamaha, which relegated him to 41:17 minutes behind the overall leader, Joan Barreda on a Honda.
Despres had been second in the standings overnight, but he needed to stop for more than half an hour to fix the engine problem, which was believed to have been caused by an electrical fault.
“My positioning system broke. I had to do a little handiwork to repair it,” Despres said. “But I am not discouraged. The day that I give up is the day I go home. I love this race and there are plenty of stages left before the finish at Valparaiso on Jan. 18.”