It did not take very long for Dakar 2017 to bite as Wednesday’s third stage hit hard to turn both the car and bike classes on their heads.
Today’s 780km trip from San Miguel de Tucumán to San Salvador included a steep climb into the Andes to 5000m with temperatures plummeting from 35 to 5 degrees Celsius, which seemed to be the catalyst for some extreme drama.
Qatari Nasser Al Attiyah’s Toyota led the stage which was truncated at two-thirds distance before resuming a good few kilometres anon. The Toyota star had been engrossed in a battle for the stage lead with Mr Dakar Stephane Peterhansel and for the overall race lead with WRC legend Sebastien Loeb throughout the first half.
The rest of the top ten feverishly swapped positions waypoint by waypoint, with Mikko Hirvonen initially third for Mini from Loeb and Cyril Despres’ Peugeots, Yazeed al Rajhi’s Mini, Carlos Sainz’ Peugeot and the Toyotas of Nani Roma and Giniel de Villiers ahead of tenth-placed Orlando Terranova’s Mini.
But all went awry for Al Attiyah minutes after the restart when the leading Toyota shed a wheel and stopped to allow the chasing pack to pass as Nasser waited for assistance, but things got even worse for Toyota as Giniel de Villiers and Roma both stopped literally minutes after Al Attiyah got going again following his lengthy repair.
Fortunately all three Toyotas got going again, although de Villiers lost 30 minutes and Nasser an hour and 20 minutes, which left Mr Dakar Peterhansel to stroll through to victory from Sainz, who leapfrogged the rest of the field from seventh to second in the space of 150km, with Loeb snatching third from Hirvonen and Despres, Terranova, Al Rajhi, Roma, Martin Prokop bringing his Ford home 9th and Pole Przygonski provisionally tenth for Mini.
De Villiers will likely find himself around 22nd by the time all cars are finished, with Al Attiyah well down the order and both set for a fightback. Day 3 was positive for the fourth Toyota of Zim driver Conrad Rautenbach and SA navigator Rob Howie, which was running 12th and first rookie, but that crew had to knuckle in to help Al Attiyah home and that lost almost an hour in the process.
All that proved to thoroughly shake up the overall leaderboard, with Sainz slashing Loeb’s lead to just 42 seconds to move up to second at Al Attiyah’s expense, while Peterhansel jumped up to third from seventh from Hirvonen, who bounced from 8th to 4th. Roma is the best of the Toyotas in fifth from Al Rajhi, Despres, Terranova, and Przygonski.
Bikes – Barreda Blows ‘em away
The bikes also delivered supreme Dakar Day 3 drama right up front when overnight leader, Australian Toby Price and the rest of top six took a wrong turn and got lost, with Price going furthest off track before he realised his mistake. The Aussie then turned around and raced back to the route, collecting his pursuers who had followed him the wrong way, to follow him as he sped back.
Barreda was perfectly placed to avoid getting lost and ended up racing the rest of the 200-odd kilometers to the end of the first part of the day’s stage in close company with Price and the rest of the gang of former leaders..
Price passed that first waypoint in 46th position, but by WP2, he had already raced back to 31st overall, before passing the next four waypoints in 28th, 23rd, 21st and 15th positions respectively. He clocked in to the neutralised section in fourteenth.
In the end Barreda took a commanding win. He may have been lucky to avoid getting lost, but he utterly dominated on the final high altitude part of the stage to eventually even open up a further 2 minutes on Price, who finally ended up a quite amazing ninth overall.
Barreda beat KTM-mounted Brit Sam Sunderland to second on the stage by almost 14 minutes, with the Husqvarnas of the day’s surprise, Frenchman Pierre Renet and Chilean Pablo Quintanilla next up. They finished ahead of Portuguese Honda pilot Paulo Goncalves, Frenchman Adrien van Beveren on the fastest Yamaha and Spaniard Gerard Farres Guell’s KTM seventh ahead of Price.
Quite incredibly, all the drama around him saw SA rider David Thomas shoot up from 43rd at the start to 12th overall at the first waypoint, with the Husqvarna rider slipping back to 26th as delayed riders made their way back past. Botswana rider Vince Crosbie also benefited much of the bike field getting lost to vault from 66th to 35th at WP1 and end the first section in 55th. The other South African bikers, Joey Evans and Walyer Terblanche were running close together around 110th overall as we wrote
Argentine quad rider Gonzalez dominated the stage to beat fellow Yamaha man Casale by 4 minutes to halve the Argentine’s lead. The trucks were still racing as we wrote.