Mr Dakar repels challenge from Loeb
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Defending champion Stephane Peterhansel (France) will take a lead of more than five minutes into tonight’s short final stage of the Dakar Rally in Argentina.
The Peugeot 3008DKRs of Peterhansel and nine-time world rally champion Sebastien Loeb (France) duelled through today’s penultimate stage from San Juan to Rio Cuarto which included a 292km special stage split into two segments.
Loeb carved into Peterhansel’s overnight lead in the first section and narrowed the margin by 2m 56s but Peterhansel fought back in the second section and reduced Loeb’s winning margin for the day to just 18s.
It means Peterhansel will begin the final leg into Buenos Aires – which includes a short 64km competitive section – with a comfortable lead of 5m 32s.
The French veteran is regarded as ``Mr Dakar’’ due to his six previous wins on motorcycles and six in the car category.
Peugeot is well placed to sweep the Dakar podium with Cyril Despres (France) running 32m 54s behind Peterhansel in another 3008DKR and the nearest challenger to the French team is Toyota Hilux driver Nani Roma (Spain) who is 1h 15m 41s behind Peterhansel.
A close fight continues for fifth place with Argentina’s Orlando Terranova (X-Raid Mini) posting the third fastest stage time and narrowly beating South African Giniel de Villiers (Toyota Hilux).
De Villiers is 2m 03s ahead of the local driver going into the final stage. Mikko Hirvonen (Mini) has continued in the race today after losing more than 4 hours on Thursday.
The Finn has now dropped to 11th place. Once again motorcycle leader Sam Sunderland (GB) was able to take a cautious approach, clocking the fifth fastest time for today’s stage but was able to extend his overall lead.
Sunderland has extended his advantage over KTM team-mate Matthias Walkner (Austria) to 33m 09s. A final stage podium battle is expected with Spaniard Gerrard Farres Guell (KTM) just 48s ahead of Yamaha’s Adrien van Beveren (Yamaha).
Today’s motorcycle stage winner was Honda rider Joan Barreda Bort (Spain) who has now climbed back to fifth place overall after being hit by a 60-minute penalty earlier in the race.
In the Truck category it was Argentina’s Federico Villagra – a former WRC competitor – who won today’s stage in an IVECO Powerstar.
Overall the Russian Kamaz Master team is well-placed to regain the Dakar honours it lost to the IVECO brand last year with Eduard Nikolaev (Russia) now leading Kamaz team-mate Dmitry Sotnikov by 12m 44s. Third placed Gerard de Rooy (Netherlands) in an IVECO is now 32m 49s behind the leader.