Loeb races ahead as Peugeot strikes back

ASUNCION: Sebastien Loeb marched into the lead of the car category as Peugeot struck back in what is expected to be an event-long duel with Toyota after the Stage 2 of the 2017 Dakar Rally. Peugeot levelled the score with Toyota at one stage win apiece on the 2017 rally, Loeb doing the honours and taking the overnight lead in the process. He put 1m23s into Stage 1 winner Nasser al Attiyah to overhaul the Toyota by almost half a minute overall, despite getting stuck in the dust behind the second Toyota of Giniel De Villiers for the last 70 km of the stage.
Loeb led the rally early on debut last year before crashing out, the quick stage again playing to the style that took him to his record-setting haul of WRC titles.
889511“Sure, I like to be in this position but it’s a bit early in the rally,” Loeb said.
“But it’s good to have a pace like that. Today was a stage that was really, really fast; a bit unusual. I hope tomorrow will continue to be at the same rhythm for the fight.”
The Toyota crew had a long night in the bivouac repairing Al Attiyah’s Hilux after an oil fire late on Stage 1, the Qatari driver having a steady run as the first car on the road.
“It was very dangerous,” he said. “There were lots of big holes, water in some places and a lot of animals, but okay, we need to mix everything.
Peugeot’s Carlos Sainz ran third fastest on the day to move to the same position overall, while Toyota’s De Villiers and Nani Roma make up a tightly packed top five, the South African surviving a scare early in the stage.
One driver who did lose a bit of ground on Stage 2 was reigning champion Stephane Peterhansel.
The Frenchman lost almost seven minutes on team-mate Loeb but still moved to seventh overall, and fancies his chances of recouping the deficit on the more technical stages yet to come.
In bike section, Toby Price stormed into the overall lead with an emphatic win on Stage 2 of the event.
The 2016 overall winner of the Motorcycle class charged from 17th at the start of the day to turn a 90-second deficit into a lead of almost three minutes.
Temperatures of around 40 degrees again prevailed for the 275 km competitive test between Resistencia and San Miguel de Tucuman, a fast one reminiscent of the African Savannah. It proved a strong one for the Australian contingent, which had three riders finish inside the Top 20 on the stage.
Price’s low finish on the opening stage gave him a prime starting position for the second and he made full use of it from the off.
He led at every major timing waypoint, putting over 2min 30sec over his nearest rival by just the halfway point of the stage.
“Today was a whole different day,” Price said. “There was a lot of speed; a lot of fast roads and it was really dusty. We also had to deal with a lot of animals.
“It wasn’t a tricky day in navigation but you can’t put a cow in the road book and it becomes difficult when they are popping out at you.
“But it’s good to get to the finish with this heat.”
The win is the seventh Dakar stage victory of Price’s career, and by the finish he was almost three and a half minutes clear of his nearest rival.
That was KTM team-mate Matthias Walkner, but the Austrian copped a five minute penalty that dropped him from second on the stage to 13th on the day and 11th overall.
Price’s 2016 adversary Paulo Goncalves moves to second by dint of Walkner’s penalty, with KTM’s Sam Sunderland moving to third overall.
Australia had one of its best days on the Dakar, with Rod Faggotter and Todd Smith joining Price inside the Top 20 on the stage. — Agencies