Toyota’s Nasser Al-Attiyah nearly halved the deficit to Stephane Peterhansel after claiming a second successive stage victory in Tuesday’s third stage of the Dakar Rally.
Three-time winner Al-Attiyah was left on the backfoot when he lost 12 minutes to the leaders in the opening stage on Sunday.
After gaining three minutes back in Stage 2, the Qatari driver has narrowed the deficit to just five minutes with an emphatic victory in the 406km loop around Wadi Ad-Dawasir.
Fellow Toyota driver Henk Lategan, Overdrive’s Yazeed Al Rajhi and X-raid Mini star Carlos Sainz all took turns leading the Stage 3, before Al-Attiyah asserted his authority at the fourth waypoint to snatch the top spot.
Setting the fastest time at each of the remaining waypoints, Al-Attiyah eventually finished the stage 2ms27s clear of Lategan, as Peterhansel ended up four minutes down in third after suffering a puncture early on.
Century driver Yasir Seaidan and Khalid Al Qassimi (Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot) were classified fourth and fifth respectively, both breaking inside the overall top 10 at the end of the day.
Nine-time WRC champion Sebastien Loeb (Bahrain Raid Xtreme) continued his recovery drive after a nightmare start to his fifth Dakar outing, finishing sixth fastest to grab the same place in the general classifications.
With two strong stage finishes in a row, the Frenchman now sits just over a minute adrift of fifth-placed driver Jakub Przygonski of Overdrive, but 45 minutes behind leader Peterhansel.
Loeb’s former WRC teammate Carlos Sainz suffered a disastrous day in the second of the two Mini buggies, the Spanish driver losing over 30 minutes after going off the course 156km into the special and then suffering a puncture.
Finishing 19th in the day’s provisional classifications, Sainz has dropped to fourth overall behind top Century driver Mathieu Serradori, who finished seventh fastest on Tuesday behind Martin Prokop (Benzina Ford).
The top 10 in the overall classification was completed by Lategan (seventh), Seaidan, (eight), Al Qassimi (ninth) and Prokop (10th).
Elsewhere, Bernhard Ten Brinke’s Overdrive-run Toyota suffered serious damage after it rolled over 10km after the penultimate waypoint. Both Ten Brinke and co-driver Tom Colsoul escaped the accident without any injuries and are awaiting the arrival of the assistance team at the time of writing.