UYUNI, Bolivia: Stephane Peterhansel’s hopes of a 14th Dakar title suffered a potentially fatal blow on Saturday (Sunday in Manila) when his race-leading Peugeot was hit by a suspension failure which left him stranded for an hour and 45 minutes.
The Frenchman, bidding for a third successive triumph on four wheels, came to a halt after 186km of the run from the Bolivian capital of La Paz to Uyuni.
According to his team, the damage was caused when he hit a stone as he tried to get past another competitor.
Peterhansel, 52, had started the day with a comfortable 27min 10sec gap to Carlos Sainz, his Peugeot teammate who is now the race leader.
He eventually finished 1hr 47min 56sec behind the Spaniard to sit in third place overall, a huge 1hr 20min 46sec off the overall lead.
Teammate Cyril Despres had stopped to help the stricken Peterhansel who was leading the stage at the time of the accident.
When Peterhansel eventually resumed racing, Sainz, the 2010 champion, had sprinted past on his way to taking the day’s honors.
“We were on a long straight with big puddles,” said Peterhansel as he recounted the day’s drama.
“A quad was stopped nearby, so I moved to the side and I heard a deafening crash. The entire rear was in bits and pieces—suspension, transmission shaft, shock absorbers.
“Everything was smashed up. What we did was cannibalize Cyril’s car. We spent 1 hr 50min patching it up.
“But my smile stays, this wasn’t a make-or-break moment for my career. It’s just a blow to our morale and some damage on the car.”
Sainz finished in 4hr 49min 26sec, with the Toyotas of South Africa’s Giniel de Villiers and Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah —at 12min 05sec and 14min 19sec respectively—behind him.
“We’re aware that things have happened since the start of the Dakar, but I am surprised to be in the lead,” said Sainz, also a former world rally champion.
“But there are plenty of stages left, some were very difficult with the dunes and sand so anything can happen.”
Spain’s Joan Barreda, riding a Honda, claimed his third stage win on this year’s Dakar as France’s Adrien van Beveren, on a Yamaha, reclaimed the overall motorcycle lead.
Barreda finished the seventh stage with a 2min 51sec advantage over Van Beveren and 8min 02sec in front of Argentina’s Kevin Benavides, the Honda rider who had led the race overnight.
Van Beveren leads the event with a 3min 14sec advantage over Benavides while he has a 4min 45sec gap on Barreda.