SS3 Red Bull: The Dakar climbs into the clouds

Stéphane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret

Three days into the 2017 Dakar Rally and the first real navigation challenges of the contest have caused major shifts in the formative leaderboards. With waypoints proving difficult to locate in the thin air of northern Argentina we’ve seen crews and their machines pushed to breaking point as the world’s toughest endurance race lives up to its reputation.


Standing up to every challenge that came their way on Stage Three was Team Peugeot Total who claimed a monumental 1-2-3 result on the route from Tucumán to Jujuy. Reigning car race champion and 12-time Dakar winner Stéphane Peterhansel (FRA) showed his class over the entire 364km of timed racing to take the stage win. Joining Stéphane on the Stage Three podium were his Peugeot team-mates Carlos Sainz (ESP) and Sébastien Loeb (FRA).

It’s also a Peugeot 1-2-3 in the general classification with Loeb leading from Sainz and Peterhansel. The fourth member of the D-ream Team – Cyril Despres (FRA) – is running 7th overall after an extremely satisfying day’s work by the French marque.

It was tougher going for Toyota Gazoo Racing with both Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT) and Giniel De Villiers (RSA) suffering significant stoppages on the stage. Both former Dakar winners had been riding high after two stages but both saw a major dent put in their chances of a win this year on this stage. Al-Attiyah encountered his problems when he ran off the route and fell down a hole, an event that lost him a front wheel. The incident saw the Qatari lose over two hours on stage winner Peterhansel. Meanwhile, De Villiers had a fuel pump problem on his Hilux which slowed him down before taking 30 minutes to fix.

The signs were more encouraging for Orlen Team’s Kuba Przygonski (POL) who brought home his MINI for a 10th place finish on the stage that lands him in the Top 10 overall.

The battle at the front of the bike race swung in favour of Honda today as their lead rider Joan Barreda (ESP) collected the 15th stage win of his Dakar career. When reigning champion Toby Price (AUS) of the Red Bull KTM Factory Team lost 20 minutes due a navigation mistake opening the road, Barreda pounced to take advantage. The Spanish rider now leads the overall classification with Price’s KTM team-mate Sam Sunderland (GBR) 10m20s back in second place. Price himself has slipped to 5th overall while KTM’s third factory rider Matthias Walkner (AUT) rounds off the Top 10.

As the Dakar climbed to 5,000 metres above sea level on Stage Three one former winner of the truck race took the chance to climb up the general classification. Eduard Nikolaev (RUS), Dakar winner in 2013, took full advantage of the mechanical problems suffered by defending champion Gerard De Rooy (NLD) to approach the summit of the truck race. Nikolaev can call on the support of fellow Team Kamaz Master drivers Dmitry Sotnikov, Anton Shibalov and Ayrat Mardeev as the Russians look to secure top spot on the stages to come.

Completing a topsy turvy day at the Dakar was another change of race leader, this time in the quad class. As with the trucks it was another former winner taking advantage of a typically unpredictable stage to claim top spot overnight. Ignacio Casale (CHI), Dakar winner in 2015, kept a cool head in extremely testing circumstances and propelled himself into the lead of the quad race with an advantage of 4m37s over Gaston Gonzalez (ARG) in second.

Tomorrow sees Stage Four of the 2017 Dakar Rally take the convoy into Bolivia with high altitude dunes among the challenges to be faced.

Stéphane Peterhansel #300: “It seems like we have secured a very good result for Team Peugeot Total. It’s nice to win a stage but that is not the important thing so early in the rally. The speed of our car was good and we were able to be consistent by not stopping once. My co-driver also did a great job today with the navigation.”

Carlos Sainz #304: “We were pushing to the limit today after losing some time in the first part of the stage. We hit our rhythm in the second part and were able to recover most of the time we lost. Today has shown us once again that anything can happen at the Dakar on any stage.”

Sébastien Loeb #309: “Opening the stage was tough and it cost us some time and then in the second part of the stage we had a puncture. That was a bit more time lost when we stopped to change the tyre. Even with these problems we managed a good stage so I can have no big complaints.”

Cyril Despres #307: “We had a bird inside our radiator so that caused us some problems in the first part of special stage. We managed to carry out some repairs during the neutralisation and we were able to carry on again without losing too much time.”

Kuba Przygonski #316: “Today really felt like a Dakar stage. It was a really bumpy start to the stage and we were jumping around inside the car. Then things got a bit smoother and we could enjoy the ride. The rhythm felt good and that’s the rhythm we will try to maintain until the end of the race.

Toby Price #1: “The first part of the roadbook was definitely tricky and I think we all got a little bit out of whack there and a little bit lost. We had to climb our way back from there. All in all, we got through that part not so bad and then we led the last little bit. We definitely lost a bit of time today; but there’s still a long way to go – we’re only three days in. Give it time and we’ll see how we go. I won last year by almost forty minutes so surely we can try and do something.”

Sam Sunderland #14: “It wasn’t the best of days because navigation mistakes are always annoying, but I’ve made it though so I’m happy with that. I could definitely feel the altitude having an effect when we reached 5,000 metres (above sea level). It’s something that adds to the difficulty but it’s the same for everybody, we’re all in the same boat.”

Matthias Walkner #16: “At the beginning of the stage we had some really tricky navigation and then after 80km things got pretty fast. During the stage we reached 4,000 metres above sea level and that was not so bad. During the neutralisation we hit 5,000 metres and that gave me a bit of a headache.”

Christina Gaither,