The Dakar Rally raced back into Argentina earlier today with Sebastien Loeb delivering a burst of pace that has secured the rally lead on the 492km eighth stage from Uyuni in Bolivia to the town of Salta.
Loeb’s victory in today’s stage — by more than three and a half minutes from Peugeot team-mate and fellow Frenchman Stephane Peterhansel — has put the nine-time world rally champion into the lead of the fortnight-long race through South America.
Loeb now leads the rally by 1m 38s from defending champion Peterhansel and the trio of V6 diesel powered Peugeot 3008DKR racers again holds the top three positions with Cyril Despres (France) regaining third place, but now 17m 17s behind Loeb.
Spaniard Nani Roma (Toyota Hilux) who had been the closest threat to the Peugeots has struggled to seventh fastest time in today’s stage and slipped to fourth again behind Despres.
Finland’s Mikko Hirvonen (X-Raid Mini) was fourth in today’s stage and remains in fifth position overall ahead of the Toyota Hilux of Giniel de Villiers (South Africa).
In the motorcycle category Honda’s Joan Barreda Bort (Spain) won today’s stage but KTMs rally leader Sam Sunderland (GB) continued to manage his advantage at the front of the bike field.
With second placed Pablo Quintanilla (Husqvarna) of Chile losing time today Sunderland stretched his rally lead to 20m 58s while French rider Adrien van Beveren (Yamaha) continues in third place and has closed up to 7m 51s behind Quintanilla.
KTM riders Matthias Walkner (Austria) and Gerard Farres Guell (Spain) complete the top five.
Crews in the truck category only contested the first part of today’s stage. The leaderboard now sees the Russian Kamaz Master team running in formation at the front with Dmitry Sotnikov (above) holding a lead of 1m 46s over team-mate Eduard Nikolaev but defending champion Gerard De Rooy (Netherlands) has his IVECO Powerstar only 2m 20s behind the leading Kamaz.
Stage nine from Salta to Chilecito travels 977km and could prove decisive as almost the entire 406km competitive section is offroad and will require precise navigation.