SAN SALVADOR DE JUJUY, Argentina: Defending champion Stephane Peterhansel led a Peugeot sweep of the top-three finishing spots on the third stage of the Dakar Rally on Wednesday with teammate Sebastien Loeb narrowly retaining the overall lead.
Peterhansel, 51, seeking a 13th career triumph in the gruelling 9,000km endurance event, finished the San Miguel de Tucuman to San Salvador de Jujuy stage in Argentina in 4 hours 18 min 17 sec.
Carlos Sainz, the 2010 champion, was second, coming home 1 min 54 sec behind the Frenchman Peterhansel. Third was nine-time world rally champion Loeb at 3 min 8 sec off the lead.
Loeb stays in the overall lead with a paper-thin 0.42sec advantage over Sainz and a 4.18sec gap on Peterhansel.
“It’s a really good day for Peugeot. We’ve lost, not completely but probably, two rivals in Nasser Al Attiyah and Giniel de Villiers, so it’s a little bit clearer at the front of the race,” said Peterhansel, who had struggled in the first two stages, finishing seventh and 12th.
Wednesday’s stage was split into two sections with the second part over a 124km timed run seeing the competitors race at altitude hitting 5,000m for the first time in the 2017 event.
However, it was a test too far for Toyota, who are seen as Peugeot’s major rivals for the title.
Longtime stage leader Nasser Al Attiyah of Qatar, the 2011 and 2015 champion who was just 28 seconds behind Loeb overnight, came to a halt for over an hour when he damaged a wheel on his vehicle.
Toyota teammates Giniel de Villiers, the 2005 winner, and 2004 champion Nani Roma also hit technical trouble on the exhausting climb.
Roma eventually finished in eighth spot, 13 min 16 sec behind Peterhansel, De Villiers was 18th at 36 min 23 sec and Al Attiyah down in 28th spot at a massive 2 h 17 min 38 sec off the pace.
In the overall standings, Roma is fifth (13 min 04 sec off the lead), De Villiers is 11th (35 min 20 sec) while Al Attiyah is 25th (2h 14min 58sec).
Spain’s Joan Barreda won the third stage of the motorcycle event by more than 10 minutes to take the overall lead.
The Honda rider dominated the 780km (364km timed) stage in 4 hours 22 min 41 sec.
Overnight leader and defending champion Toby Price of Australia was close to 23 minutes off the pace on his KTM.
“I was lucky and I did a good job. It was a really tough stage but I kept my focus during all the stage, so I am really happy with the work,” said Barreda.
“It’s still too early to talk about winning. There are still seven thousand kilometres to go.”
Britain’s Sam Sunderland is second overall at 11 min 20sec behind Barreda while Paulo Goncalves of Portugal holds third spot at 14min 42sec.
Thursday’s fourth stage, over 521km from San Salvador de Jujuy to Tupiza in Bolivia will be raced to altitudes of around 3,500m.