Peugeot holds a commanding lead as the first week survivors of the Dakar Rally have regrouped in the Bolivian capital of La Paz ahead of six more days of marathon competition restarting tonight (NZ time).
The run from Paraguay through north-eastern Argentina and to the high altitudes of Bolivia has delivered major shifts of fortune and daily changes to the leader board.
Defending champion Stephane Peterhansel (France) led the Peugeot challenge into La Paz after Saturday’s sixth stage was cancelled due to heavy rain that has ended a recent drought and damaged roads.
Peterhansel – who has six Dakar wins on motorcycles and six in cars – leads the event in his Peugeot 3008DKR by 1m 09s from team-mate Sebastien Loeb (France). Cyril Despres (France) is 4m 54s behind the rally leader in the third placed 3008DKR.
It’s not been all good news for Peugeot as Carlos Sainz (Spain) rolled his Peugeot 3008DKR into a ravine during stage four and retired from the event.
Behind the leading Peugeot trio it’s the Toyota Hilux of Spaniard Nani Roma running in fourth place while former WRC star Mikko Hirvonen (Finland) has slipped from third to fifth in the leading X-Raid Mini with a troubled run on stage five. Hirvonen is 42m 51s behind Peterhansel.
Polish driver Jakub Przygonski (X-Raid Mini) – another former bike racer turned Dakar car competitor - has climbed steadily to sixth position ahead of Argentina’s Orlando Terranova (Mini) and South African driver Giniel de Villiers (Toyota Hilux).
The daily swings of fortune have been even more extreme in the motorcycle category with navigation challenges and penalties being among the deciding factors while KTM’s defending champion Toby Price (Australia) led after day two but crashed out on stage four sustaining a broken femur.
The Honda team of Joan Barreda Bort (Spain), Ricky Brabec (USA), Paul Goncalves (Portugal) and Michael Metge (France) looked in a strong position but they were hit by a 60-minute penalty for refuelling at an incorrect location.
Out in front of the bikes at the mid-way point is Dubai-based British rider Sam Sunderland on a KTM.
Sunderland, who has never finished the Dakar before, heads Chilean Pablo Quintanilla (Husqvarna) by 12m 00s and Yamaha’s Adrien van Beveren (France) trails the leader by 16m 07s. KTM riders Gerard Farres-Guell (Spain) and Matthias Walkner (Austria) complete the top five.
A close fought Truck category has seen IVECO, MAN and Kamaz teams enjoy time at the top of the leader board.
The rally leader at La Paz is the IVECO of defending champion Gerard de Rooy (Netherlands) chased by a trio of Russian Kamaz Master trucks driven by Eduard Nikolaev, Dimitry Sotnikov and 2015 champion Airat Markeev.
Monday’s route from La Paz to Uyuni travels 622km with 322km of special stage competition. It’s the first segment of a six-day run south through Bolivia and Argentina and then east to the rally finish at Buenos Aires on Saturday January 14.