Defending champion Carlos Sainz of Spain extended his lead at the top of the Dakar Rally standings on Wednesday by winning the fourth stage as the gruelling event crossed the border from Argentina into Chile.
The Volkswagen driver covered the 207km special on the 761km run from Jujuy in the north of Argentina to the Chilean town of Calama in 1 hour 57 minutes 09 seconds to finish 50 seconds ahead of last year’s runner-up and teammate Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar.
France’s Stephane Peterhansel was third at 1 minute 22 seconds in his BMW.
It was the third stage win for double rally world champion Sainz in this year’s race.
“There was some navigation work, a bit of off-track driving, but I think that it will be tomorrow when things will get serious,” said Sainz, who had led third-stage winner Al Attiyah by 3.34 in the overall standings overnight.
“I drove very fast today. I hope that someone was quicker then me, so that I don’t have to open the way. Peterhansel, Al-Attiyah and even Giniel De Viliers (another Volkswagen driver) are dangerous rivals. We’re very close to each other in the standings.”
Spaniard Marc Coma, riding a KTM, earlier grabbed the overall motorcycles lead by finishing in 2:04, a 16-second lead over defending champion, and overnight leader, Cyril Despres of France.
“It was a very important day for me, even if it was only a 207km stage. It was difficult to open the way. I’m happy and I felt great,” said Coma.
“I hope it stays like that right until the end. The general standings don’t matter for the moment. The most important thing will be the last day. It’s essential to have a good pace and avoid making mistakes. Now we’ll have to deal with two very difficult stages.”
Despres was not concerned by losing his overall advantage to Coma, standing at just 0.02sec behind overall.
“For this type of terrain you need to change the way your brain’s wired. There’s no more hard ground, just desert, off-track riding and surfaces which break up,” he said.
“For a first day in the sand, it was a good start to the desert stages. Today, Marc Coma rode a great stage. It’s a superb battle. Today again we opened up a little more of a gap on the others. This evening, I’m in second, 2 seconds behind. For a number 2, that’s a neat trick, isn’t it?”