Defending champion Stephane Peterhansel drove to victory in the sixth stage of the Dakar Rally on Friday, but the race was overshadowed by the deaths of a motorcyclist, who was a father of five, and two journalists.
Peterhansel, six times a champion in the motorcycle section and with five titles on four wheels, finished 2 minutes, 43 seconds ahead of Qatar’s 2011 champion Nasser al-Attiyah and 5:20 minutes in front of Argentina’s Orlando Terranova on the 400km timed run from Tucuman to Salta.
Spain’s Nani Roma, in another Mini, was sixth on the day and retained the overall lead.
French rider Alain Duclos, on a Sherco, beat overall motorcycling leader Marc Coma by 75 seconds, but celebrations were muted after it was revealed that the 9,374km race, which crosses Argentina, Chile and Bolivia, had claimed three more lives.
Belgian motorcyclist Eric Palante, 50, riding for the Honda team, died on Thursday’s fifth stage between Chilecito and Tucuman.
“We are very moved by his death, we can’t hide our pain,” race director Etienne Lavigne said.
“Eric was a tough, hard rider and a great guy,” he said.
Dakar organizers Amaury Sport Organization issued a statement reporting that a support truck had discovered Palante’s body at 8:30am on Friday.
“No alert was received by the organizers. Eric had been replenished with water during the afternoon,” the statement said.
Palante is the 23rd competitor in 36 editions to die in the Dakar Rally.
Meanwhile, two members of an Argentine news team also died on Thursday when the car they were driving in fell into a ravine, Super Rally magazine said.
“The dead are journalism student Agustin Mina, 20, and Daniel Ambrosio, 51, who loved auto racing,” magazine manager Francisco Delgado said.
Meanwhile, Peterhansel racked up a record-equaling 63rd stage win on the Dakar.
“It was just a pleasure to drive and we tried to drive very fast today. We are third, I think, and for me this is a bad result. The goal is only victory,” Peterhansel said.
“We will try to push every day, but we know that when we take a risk we can have a crash or something like that. I think we will take the risk to win back time and to get back to first position,” he added.
Duclos’ last win on the Dakar came in Bamako in Mali eight years ago when the event was still staged in Africa.
“Today, it was my type of terrain. We’ve got over the worst over the last few days and the rest day has arrived at the right time — it couldn’t be better timed,” he said.
Duclos is third overall after six stages, more than one hour behind former three-time champion Coma on a KTM.
Joan Barreda, on a Honda, was fourth on Friday, but is second in the overall standings, 42:17 minutes behind fellow Spaniard Coma.