Today’s Dakar Rally action started on the beach, but this was no relaxed day out for the brave competitors left in the race. As stage four left Peru’s Pacific Ocean shoreline it delved deep into the desert for a section of sand dunes totalling 100km. It was in this extreme terrain that many of the race’s leading contenders lost their shot at glory.
The cars were waved off from the beach in groups of four, with a 19km straight to test the nerve of each of the crews. Sébastien Loeb (FRA) went off in the second wave and was soon gaining on the opening foursome that included his Peugeot team-mates Stéphane Peterhansel (FRA), Cyril Despres (FRA) and Carlos Sainz (ESP) as well as the Toyota of Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT).
“We made the best time and that’s what we had to do, so at the moment it’s going well.” – Sébastien Loeb
Loeb kept pushing through 330km of timed special and won the stage with the Peugeot 3008DKR Maxis of Sainz and Peterhansel second and third respectively. However, the shine was taken off Team Peugeot Total’s 1-2-3 result by the problems suffered by their fourth driver Despres. Despres suffered a long stoppage at the 180km point in stage due to a broken rear wheel and his chances of repeating last year’s podium finish now look very slim.
“We’ve three cars that have come through the stage OK, but I’m really disappointed for Cyril.” – Stéphane Peterhansel
There were problems also on the stage for Al-Attiyah and his Toyota Gazoo Racing SA team-mate Giniel De Villiers (ZAF). Both drivers endured a tough day and both eventually finished around an hour behind Loeb.
“We’re here now at the finish and we’ll see what we can do. We need to push at maximum pace now.” – Nasser Al-Attiyah
With each passing stage the world’s toughest rally is proving its hard earned reputation as no respecter of rank or reputation. Watch Bryce Menzies (USA) crash out on stage two and get his reaction right here.
The bikes also started on the beach today with the two wheel competitors going off in groups of 15 at intervals of five minutes. The big victors were the Yamaha Factory Team as they ended the day with Adrien Van Beveren (FRA) bagging the stage win to take control of the general classification.
A mass navigation mistake affected Red Bull KTM Factory Team riders Sam Sunderland (GBR), Toby Price (AUS), Matthias Walkner (AUT), Antoine Méo (FRA) and Laia Sanz (ESP). Walkner now holds third overall with a gap of seven minutes to Van Beveren while Méo and Price are a further five minutes back.
“There were about 20 bikers all in the same place searching for the waypoint, really crazy.” – Matthias Walkner
Sanz dropped to 25th overall but the stage was much more damaging for reigning Dakar champion Sunderland. The British biker injured his back on the stage and has since been transferred to hospital in Lima via the bivouac in San Juan de Marcona.
“I’ve spoken with Sam and it seems that when he was searching for one of the waypoint control points he jumped into a big hole and suffered a big compression. He felt a sharp pain in his back immediately, but carried on for another 5km before stopping again due to the pain and a lack of feeling in his legs. He said that the feeling in his legs has returned, but he will now be transferred to Lima for more tests.” – Alex Doringer, Red Bull KTM Factory Team Manager
Stage four marked the first day of this Dakar in which Ignacio Casale (CHI) has not recorded the fastest time in the quad category. Instead Sergei Kariakin (RUS) took the stage win, but could only take 43 seconds off Casale’s lead. The Chilean quad biker still holds an advantage of over 25 minutes after four stages.
Mirroring Casale’s early domination of proceedings are Team Kamaz Master in the truck division. Another stage win for Eduard Nikolaev (RUS) has extended the Russian trucker’s overall lead.
Before this Dakar got started there was plenty of anticipation that stage five would be make or break for the serious title contenders. Well if stage five delivers anything like the fireworks we’ve already seen in the deserts of Peru then bring it on! There’s over 250km of timed special stage on the route to Arequipa and plenty of that is on the dunes; these sands are set to shatter even more Dakar dreams.
The 40th edition of the Dakar Rally takes place from January 6 until January 20. Watch daily updates of all the action from South America at www.RedBull.com/Dakar.