Iquique: Triple Dakar Rally champion Stephane Peterhansel drove his BMW to victory on Thursday’s fifth stage, covering the 423km run from Calama in 4hr 33min 19sec to storm into second place in the chase for the 2011 title.
The 45-year-old Frenchman, the champion on four wheels in 2004, 2005 and 2007 and a six-time motorcycle winner, was 1min 24sec ahead of Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah in a Volkswagen, and 3min 15sec in front of overall leader Carlos Sainz in another Volkswagen.
Peterhansel revelled on a stage which featured many challenging sand dunes and also caused the Volkswagen duo of Al-Attiyah and defending champion Sainz navigational headaches.
Despite that, Sainz, a double world rally champion, held onto the overall lead, 2min 26sec ahead of Peterhansel with 2010 runner-up Al-Attiyah in third, 2min 33sec off the pace.
“We managed to overtake Al-Attiyah and Sainz by taking advantage of a navigation error they made. After that, it was our turn to make a mistake and get a flat tyre,” said Peterhansel.
“They overtook again, but we managed to pass them at the end. At the finish, we put in a good time.”
Sainz was glad to be still in charge of the race after a testing day.
“It was a long stage, more than 400 kilometres. We had navigation problems at the start,” said the Spaniard.
“We were hesitant for about four or five kilometres before we headed back to the track where we found some trenches that were difficult to cross. In the dunes we ended up behind a very slow motorbike.”
Portugal’s Paulo Goncalves, riding a BMW, won the motorcycle stage with Chilian Aprilia rider Francisco Lopez taking second.
Goncalves finished 2min 18sec ahead of Lopez, and 2min 19sec in front of Dutchman Frans Verhoeven on another BMW.
Overall leader Marc Coma of Spain was fourth on a KTM, just ahead of main rival and defending champion Cyril Despres of France who was 12sec behind the Spaniard.
Despres stays second in the overall standings despite being handed a 10-minute penalty overnight for a technical infringement.
“I was told at half past four in the morning that I’d been given a penalty. I just forgot my thermal gloves, so I went back to get them and I didn’t see that there were signposts I had to follow at the exit,” said the French rider.
“Unfortunately for me, that’s the race rule, but I’ve already forgotten about it with what I experienced today. This is why I ride rally-raids: 425 km of navigation and pleasure. We had to go looking for GPS coordinates that were genuinely like needles in haystacks. Forgetting about the time or penalties, the most important thing for me is to feel good and enjoy myself.”
Goncalves, who is fourth overall, almost 22 minutes behind Coma, said he had stopped to help rival Olivier Pain who had broken a wrist in a nasty fall.
“It was a very difficult stage, very long but also very beautiful,” he said.
“I think I rode it well. After the refuelling point, I stopped to help Olivier Pain who had fallen. The rules say we should stop. I waited for four to five minutes. The main thing is that he’s OK.”