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article imageRally Favourite Drops Back, Frenchman Peterhansel Leading Dakar

By Christopher Szabo     Jan 5, 2010 in Sports
Nine-times Dakar winner, Frenchman Stephane Peterhansel, in a BMW has taken the lead in the gruelling extreme event after rally favourite Volkswagen driver Giniel de Villiers dropped out of the running.
Motorsport’s website says the overall leader in the car category has changed daily, with the first stage won by Nani Roma in the BMW X-Raid, then Stage Two was taken by Nasser Al-Attiyah in the works Volkswagen Touareg and the third stage between La Rioja and Fiambala in Argentina was won by nine-time rally winner Stephane Peterhansel.
The Frenchman notched up his first six wins on motorbikes, thus earning his title of Dakar “legend.” It was today that the drivers first came across soft sand. Peterhansel said after the day’s drive:
We've had a good day. We started sixth and finished first. It wasn't an easy day, with a short special in terms of distance. There were soft dunes, quite complicated off-road parts, big tufts of camel grass and then a big sandy climb which even the powerful race organisation vehicles had trouble getting up. It's true that we didn't let the tyres down much because it's possible to get through with a different pressure level. In short, it was hard. We also saw plenty of bikers who had stopped. The difference today could be seen right from the start, when some riders and drivers got lost, but we got it right with our navigation. Afterwards, we continued to attack and didn't let the pressure drop.
Petheransel was referring to the trick of dropping tyre pressures when driving on soft sand, a technique developed by British commandos in WWII and used on the moon.
Two-time motorbike champion and the previous day’s winner Cyril Despres took first place. Speaking to on the official organisers’ webpage, he said:
This is one of those stages when you set out in the morning and you think to yourself, ”OK, 180 kilometres, that will be easy. We’ll soon be at the bivouac.” But there you are, we’ve just spent three hours battling on the bikes. It was a really African-like stage: physically tough with the heat, soft dunes and mechanical aspects to deal with. The bike suffered a bit on the first part, so I had to look after the engine. I tried to ride at a cooler pace for the last 80 kilmetres, but it was still sporty anyway. I saw Marc Coma had stopped, so I stopped next to him. I made sure my bike didn’t stall because I was scared it wouldn’t start again. But his engine was spluttering… it was a very complicated day.
Russia’s Vladimir Chagan driving for the Russian heavy truck maker, Kamaz, won the day with Firdaus Kabirov 12 minutes behind him, RIA Novosti reports. Brazil’s Brazilian Andre de Azevedo came in third.
Things went badly for the favourite, South Africa’s Giniel de Villiers, who broke down with engine trouble and ended up three hours behind the leaders. Commentators say his chances of repeating last year’s win are ”practically nil.”
American Robby Gordon in his modified Humvee also had problems and came in 55 minutes behind Peterhansel.
Stage Four runs from Fiambala in Argentina to Copiaco in Chile and the famous, or rather notorious, Atacama Desert, which should be a real challenge for drivers and vehicles.
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