Peugeot’s Cyril Despres was triumphant on stage 4 of the 2017 Dakar Rally, taking over the lead of the event as rally leader Sebastien Loeb lost valuable time. The stage also saw the withdrawal of bike rally favourite Toby Price who broke a leg in a crash.
Stage 4 was the longest of the rally so far, a high-altitude test starting in Argentina’s Jujuy and ending in Bolivia’s Tupiza at 416km, split by a small neutralised zone on the Bolivian border. It was simply just about staying out of trouble and making it to the finish, which is exactly what Despres did. The Frenchman kept his noise clean and avoided the chaos around him to win the stage by 10 minutes from Mikko Hirvonen’s Mini. This means that he had vaulted up the leaderboard to take the lead of the rally away from team-mate Loeb. He currently leads fellow Frenchman Stephane Peterhansel by 4 minutes and 8 seconds, with Hirvonen in third a minute further back.
It was a tough day for the Peugeot drivers. Yesterday’s stage winner Peterhansel was dominating the stage until a navigation error cost him over 20 minutes to his team-mate and Loeb lost 25 minutes after stopping several times during the stage. However, these problems were minor compared to the disaster that struck Carlos Sainz. The two-time World Rally Champion lost over 2 hours after rolling into a ravine shortly before the finish. He had been on course to claim the overall lead due to everyone’s trouble but instead was forced to retire as the damage was too great to continue.
The best of the depleted Toyota team was Nani Roma, the Spaniard setting the third fastest times, 12 minutes and 51 seconds off Despres.
It was an equally dramatic day in the bike category with withdrawals and penalties aplenty, but none of that bothered KTM’s Matthias Walkner. The Austrian rider won stage 4 by 2 minutes and 2 seconds with a time of 4 hours and 57 minutes.
However the big news was the tragedy that struck KTM team-mate Toby Price. The Australian crashed out 45km from the stage finish and was flown to hospital where he was diagnosed with a broken left femur.
As a result his bid to defend his title is over. This would have meant that Spanish rider Joan Barreda would have been firmly in charge at the front of the leaderboard; However, he and Honda team-mates Michael Metge and Paulo Goncalves were penalised a hour for illegal re-fueling during the stage.
This means that Husqvarna’s Pablo Quintanilla is now the rally leader, the Chilean holding a 2 minute 7 second lead over Walkner with British rider Sam Sunderland lying in fourth six minutes off the lead.
Rally favourite Barreda is now ninth, 41 minutes off the top spot, but Honda can appeal the penatly.
On the Quads local hero Walter Nosiglia won the stage by 11 minutes 28 seconds ahead of Sergey Karyakin with Argentinian rider Daniel Domaszewski coming home third.
This means that the Bolivian is now fourth in what is the tightest category in the race, as rally leader Karyakin holds a 28 second lead over Chile’s Ignacio Casale, with Nosiglia three and a half minutes further back.
There was a close finish in the Trucks with Gerard de Rooy beating Kamaz trucker Airat Mardeev by 30 seconds.
The Dutchman is now fifth, over 14 minutes behind leader Kamaz trucker Dmitry Sotnikov who leads IVECO’s ex-WRC star Federico Villagra by nearly two minutes.
Thirty seconds also separated Polaris UTV riders Mao Ruijin and Leandro Torres as the top two riders in the leaderboard dominated the stage with Mao increasing his lead over his Brazilian rival to two minutes.