Ten-time champion Stephane Peterhansel extended his Dakar Rally lead on Friday, but the world’s most grueling endurance event was once again hit by tragedy when a French motorcyclist was killed.
As Peterhansel claimed the seventh stage — which crossed the Andes at altitudes of around 5,000m between Calama in Chile and Salta to build a lead of more than three minutes on Qatar’s Nasser al-Attiyah — the event was reeling from a third death in two days.
Competitor Thomas Bourgin, 25, was involved in a collision with a Chilean police car on the link road to the start of Friday’s stage.
“The rally’s medical teams deployed on the ground were only able to certify the rider’s death, probably instant,” a statement on the race’s official Web site reported.
Bourgin was in 68th place in the overall motorcycling rankings of his first Dakar.
On Thursday, two people were killed in a head-on collision between a rally support vehicle and a taxi near Peru’s border with Chile.
Going into this year’s event, 59 people, including 20 spectators, had lost their lives in the race.
On Friday, Peterhansel finished the 218km run with a 39 second lead over fellow Frenchman Guerlain Chicherit, in an SMG, with American NASCAR driver Robby Gordon, in a Hummer, 1 minute 8 seconds off the pace.
Al-Attiyah, the 2011 champion who had won his third stage of this year’s race on Thursday to slash Peterhansel’s overall lead down to 1 minute 18 seconds, was sixth on Friday in his Buggy, 1 minute 56 seconds behind.
The Qatari remains second overall, but it is now 3 minutes 14 seconds behind defending champion Peterhansel in the race for the title.
“It was a very long link stage at more than 4,000m above sea level. We even went over 4,800 and started to feel the fatigue and headaches that can happen in that situation,” Peterhansel said.
“But then we got stuck into the special, just 218km and I have to admit that for the first 130km, we were flat out. There was nothing to do, just 15 or 30 bends and we were driving at 150kph on average,” he said.
In the motorcycling stage, America’s Kurt Caselli, on a KTM, took the honors, winning in 1 hour 51 minutes 31 seconds, an advantage of 1 minute 23 seconds over Chile’s Francisco Lopez and Olivier Pain of France.
Pain still leads the overall standings by 6 minutes 6 seconds ahead of Lopez.
Defending champion Cyril Despres, who had been second overall, dropped to more than 14 minutes off the pace after mechanical problems left him without fifth gear for half the distance.
“Cyril’s problems have given me a significant gap for the lead, and that’s a good thing for me,” Pain said.
“That’s just part of racing, but I’m not forgetting that it could happen to me too, so I’m not getting cocky about it, especially since Cyril has the capacity to claw back the time he’s lost,” he said.