There’s an old saying about it never being over until the fat lady sings. Never has that been truer than in Dakar this year.
There seemed a certain smugness in the Peugeot camp overnight as its giants Loeb, Peterhansel and Sainz sat strongly on top of the overall car standings after chief rivals Toyota had endured a disastrous day, losing leader Al Attiyah to a crash before all three of its other cars were delayed. But what a difference a day can make.
Hardly a wheel had turned this morning before Dakar pulled its nasty face – first Carlos Sainz lost ten minutes. No matter, there is strength in numbers. But no sooner had Sainz found his way again, than Stephane Peterhansel lost 15 minutes and Sebastien Loeb 25. That turned it on its head!
So by the time it had all shaken out, Cyril Despres had survived to take his first-ever car stage win to ensure Peugeot in an 11 minute victory over Mini’s Mikko Hirvonen. Nani Roma, who had run first or second all day long, had a slow final sector to drop to third. Roma had withstood a typical Carlos Sainz charge as the Spaniard came back from his early delays, but the Spaniard hit trouble again in the last sector as he slid into a ravine and had not finished as we wrote.
That allowed Peterhansel and Loeb to salvage an unlikely fourth and fifth from a clearly hobbled Giniel de Villiers, who seemed to struggle for pace all day, but stole seventh by seconds from Pole Jakub Przygonski and Chilean Boris Garafulic, whose Minis sandwiched Toyota of Dutch driver Erik van Look at the back end of the top ten.
All that had a pretty significant effect on the overall rankings, as Despres bounced up from fifth to lead the way with a 4-minute lead over the best of the French team’s giants – Peterhansel. Hirvonen is up to third from Loeb and Roma, who now sits a handy 10:30 off the lead. Przygonski is sixth from de Villiers, now 44 minutes off the lead.
Bikes – Barreda leads, Price out
The high drama was not limited to four wheels however as Dakar 2017 claimed another major scalp as 2016 bike winner Toby Price has crashed out of the lead just before today’s finish, handing the stage win to KTM teammate Matthias Walkner, while Joan Barreda Bort consolidated his overall lead with second, two minutes and 20 seconds off the Austrian.
Aussie Price led Barreda and Walkner at the first waypoint, but the Spaniard took the lead by WP2 before Barreda continued to lead the two-wheelers at ease. Price then fought back from three minutes behind to move his KTM into the bike lead, but the Aussie crashed out shortly before the end of the stage to leave Barreda in a comfortable overall lead.
Frenchmen Michel Metge (Honda) and Viscount Xavier de Soultrait were third and fourth from Slovak Stefan Svitko’s KTM and Chilean Pablo Quintanilla sixth for Husqvarna, while frontrunners Sam Sunderland, Ricky Brabec and Paulo Goncalves all suffered significant delays on today’s stage. That has seen to a shake-up on the leaderboard, with Barreda now in a powerful 22 minute lead over Quintanilla, Sunderland and Walkner, with that trio covered by two and a half minutes.
South African rider David Thomas was delayed before WP1 but rode home in 45th as he slipped back to 33rd overall, allowing Botswana biker Vince Crosbie to move ahead of him for the first time as he brought his KTM home 37th on the day to move up to 45th overall. The other South Africans, Joey Evans and Walter Terblanche were still in the stage as we wrote.
Bolivian Walter Nosiglia won the quad stage on his Honda from Russian Sergey Koriakin’s Yamaha, which becomes the fourth quad in four days to lead the overall standings. The trucks were still racing as we wrote.