Sebastien Loeb extended his lead in the Dakar Rally to nearly eight minutes with another stage victory on Thursday.
The nine-time World Rally champion beat Peugeot team-mate and fellow WRC legend Carlos Sainz by 22 seconds to win the Jujuy – Uyuni stage, but crucially for the overall standings he outpaced Stephane Peterhansel by three minutes through the 200-mile test.
Loeb enjoyed an advantage over Sainz of 1m39s around the halfway mark of the stage, but Sainz chipped away at that margin, and between the final time check and the finish he cut a 1m10s deficit down to just 22s.
“We lost maybe 20 seconds at a junction,” said Loeb. “Daniel [Elena, co-driver] told me the right way, but I went wrong.
“For the rest it was fine. Daniel was just perfect, so absolutely nothing bad to say.
“I had absolutely no problems with the car, so I tried to push harder and I got the result.
“Tomorrow we will be first on the road so it may be another story, but it’s a part of the experience we have to take.”
Peterhansel, also driving one of the dominant Peugeot 2008 DKRs, spent much of the stage in fourth place behind the Mini of Nasser Al-Attiyah, however he also clawed back time on Loeb towards the end of the stage, gaining enough ground to beat Al-Attiyah to third on the day by seven seconds.
The day’s results mean Loeb now leads Peterhansel by 7m48s, while Sainz has overtaken Al-Attiyah for third, with the lead Mini driver 50s back in fourth.
The South African-entered Toyotas of Leeroy Poulter and Giniel de Villiers continue to lead the chase of the big names in fifth and sixth, while ex-WRC star Mikko Hirvonen split them on Thursday’s stage to close to within two minutes of the latter in the overall standings.
While Peugeot now occupies the top three places in the standings, its fourth car driven by Cyril Despres lost more than an hour after suffering electrical problems.
Despres, who had to be towed up a steep slope by Romain Dumas because his car could not go faster than 50kph, lost 1h15m to Loeb, meaning he has plummeted out of the top 10 overall and is now 1h31m behind the leader.