ARICA, Chile January 10 – Defending champion Stephane Peterhansel boosted his chances of an 11th Dakar Rally title on Wednesday, extending his lead as the marathon endurance race crossed from Peru into Chile.
The French driver was second on the fifth stage, a 172km timed run from Arequipa to Arica, finishing 1min 23sec behind Mini teammate Nani Roma of Spain.
But Peterhansel saw his overnight lead increase from 5min 16sec to 9min 54sec over Qatar’s Nasser al-Attiyah, the 2011 champion, who finished seventh on the stage, six minutes behind Roma after getting lost on the testing desert track.
“It was tough and essential to find the right course,” said Peterhansel.
“Mind you, I had a good hare to follow with Nasser up ahead, who was making good tracks. All in all, it was a very pleasant special to drive, but sometimes it was quite rocky, so we were on the defensive.”
Al-Attiyah, who had already seen Buggy teammate Carlos Sainz, the 2010 champion, fall badly out of contention, admitted navigational errors had let him down after he had led the drivers off on the road to Chile having won the previous day’s stage.
“Not a very strong day. We made a navigation mistake and got lost a little bit, but, okay, we are here now,” said al-Attiyah.
For Roma, it was a sixth career stage win on the Dakar although he remains more than 37 minutes behind Peterhansel and down in sixth place in the overall standings.
“I felt good this morning. We drove well and tried to remain concentrated throughout the special, which was magnificent. It’s all going well for us for the moment. Long may it continue,” said the Spaniard, who timed 1hr 49min 40sec.
NASCAR driver Robby Gordon was third on the stage in his Hummer with South Africa’s Giniel De Villiers, in a Toyota, in fourth, while Sainz, in damage-limitation mode, was fifth.
In the moto section, France’s David Casteu, on a Yamaha, took the honours in one hour 39.42min with overall leader Olivier Pain, also on a Yamaha, 1min 09sec behind to stay on top of the overall standings with a 1min 15sec lead over his compatriot.
“The stage I won in 2010 seems a long time ago. I’ve always said to myself that winning a special stage is fabulous,” said Casteu.
“I’ve really got the feel of my bike now and I’m really enjoying it. I’m 38 years old and I’m going to take every day as it comes. I’m itching to ride flat out and today I had great fun.”
Thursday’s sixth stage is a 313km timed run from Arica to Calama.