With week one of the 2017 Dakar Rally complete, Peugeot occupies the podium in what has proved to have been one of the toughest Dakar Rally’s in recent years.
As the teams and drivers pause for the rest day in the Bolivian capital La Paz, the competitors will feel lucky to have survived so far as the 2017 edition has been a tough and gruelling affair.
Many competitors have suffered navigation difficulties with several of the top runners having lost their way throughout the event.
The weather conditions have also played their part as heavy rain forced the half of stage five to be cancelled and the complete abandonment of stage six.
Last year’s winner Stephane Peterhansel holds a 1 minute 9 second lead over Sébastien Loeb with Cyril Despres holding third place, nearly four minutes further back.
The three Frenchmen in their French cars have been the class of the field, but Nani Roma’s Toyota is only 41 seconds off the trio and well placed to take advantage of any problems that strike the French buggys.
Toyota’s own challenge looked very promising at the start of the event but has since been rocked with problems. Nasser Al-Attiyah won the first stage but retired after an accident in stage three. His South African team-mate Giniel de Villiers’ campaign has been plagued with various issues from punctures to navigational errors to struggling with wet terrain. The 2009 Dakar winner finds himself in eighth place, an hour and eight minutes down on Peterhansel.
Mini’s challenge has been subdued throughout the rally, their star Mikko Hirvonen holds fifth place, but is 42 minutes behind the leader. The Finn has admitted that problems for Peugeot is the only way he’ll be able to win.
On the bikes Britain’s Sam Sunderland is on course to become the first ever British winner of any category on the Dakar. The KTM rider currently leads Chile’s Pablo Quintanilla by 12 minutes with Yamaha’s Adrien Van Beveren four minutes further back in third place.
Sunderland’s charge to the front was helped due to issues for the top competitors. Pre-event favourite Joan Barreda has fell foul of navigational errors and rule infringement. The Spaniard took the wrong track in stage 5 and lost 37 minutes.
Prior to that he and his Honda team-mates Michael Metge and Paulo Goncalves were penalised a hour for re-fuelling in a prohibited zone during stage four. As a result he is currently twelfth in the standings an hour and 12 minutes behind Sunderland.
Another pre-event favourite to fall foul of the Dakar was last year’s winner Toby Price. However, he broke his leg in a crash in stage four and was forced to withdraw from the rally as a result.
Having kept out of trouble throughout it might not be surprising to hear that Sunderland was one of a few top riders who proclaimed that they were happy with the navigation setup.
In the trucks Dutchman Gerard De Rooy leads a trio of Kamaz at the top of the leaderboard. The Iveco trucker stormed to the front on stage five, setting a time 12 minutes faster than erstwhile leader Edouard Nikolaev and jumping him past Ayrat Mardeev. De Rooy said his measured approach to the event and keeping out of trouble helped to propel him to the front.
In the quad category Simon Vitse holds a 8 minute 14 second lead over fellow Yamaha rider Sergey Karaykin with team-mate Axel Dutrie holding the final podium position. Bolivian rider Walter Nosiglia created history on stage four when he made local knowledge count and won the stage becoming the first Bolivian to win a stage in the event’s history and grabbed the lead. Despite being eliminated in the next stage, Nosiglia was still applauded by the cheering crowds of his countrymen as the rally drove over the cancelled stage six.
In the UTV category Leandro Torres is firmly in control at the front after closest rival Mao Ruijin lost five hours in stage five. At the completion of the first half of the rally, the rally now begins the long trek back to Argentina.
In the next week the crews will leave La Paz, the route will run through the foothills of the Andes and across the Pampas to the rally’s finish in the Argentinian capital of Buenos Aires on Saturday 14th.