LIMA, Peru — Dakar Rally great Stephane Peterhansel won a drama-filled third stage on Wednesday in which defending champion Carlos Sainz and overnight leader Giniel de Villiers got stuck in the dunes and lost major time.
The overall lead changed back to opening-stage winner Nasser Al-Attiyah. Only Razeed Al Rajhi and Peterhansel were within 10 minutes of him.
The motorbike standings were also shaken up, as race leader Joan Barreda descended in fog into a basin halfway through the 331-kilometer stage from San Juan de Marcona inland to Arequipa. He couldn't get out and abandoned the race for the third time in four years. Also, defending champion Matthias Walkner, second overall overnight, strayed four kilometers off course and dropped to 21 minutes off the pace.
Sainz was the first notable driver to get in trouble just 38 kilometers in, when the front left wheel was almost torn off his Mini. He managed to restart but only after a three-hour delay.
De Villiers came to a standstill at 172 kilometers and lost four hours. Cyril Despres, Sebastien Loeb, and Jakub Przygonski faded in the dunes.
Meanwhile, seven-time auto champion Peterhansel and two-time winner Al-Attiyah were tearing up the stage. Peterhansel eventually won, and after starting the day 14 minutes down, he'd halved the deficit on new leader Al-Attiyah.
"It was a nice stage, with tough dunes and tricky navigation, hard-to-find waypoints in the valleys," Peterhansel said. "It was a quintessentially Peruvian stage and the sign of things to come in the next few days."
They were split by Al Rajhi, who was fourth on the stage. The Saudi is a threat having won his previous two events, the Kazakhstan Rally and Silk Way Rally, and his co-driver is Timo Gottschalk, who won the 2011 Dakar with Al-Attiyah. But of his four previous Dakars, Al Rajhi finished only two.
Nani Roma, the 2014 champion, was 12 minutes back.
Walkner opened the way for the motorbikes as the previous stage winner and struggled straight away. He strayed and Ricky Brabec followed him.
At least they were moving, unlike Barreda, who couldn't recover his Yamaha and quit after two hours.
French rider Xavier de Soultrait, competing in his sixth Dakar, made a huge break at the start and held on for his first career stage victory by beating Pablo Quintanilla by 15 seconds.
Quintanilla was consoled by taking the overall lead, 11 minutes up on Kevin Benavides. Sam Sunderland was third, 12 minutes back.
In Quintanilla's previous six Dakars, he finished in the top 10 three times, and abandoned three times.
He has a good lead on other pre-race favorites: Toby Price is 15 minutes back in fifth, de Soultrait is 16 minutes back in sixth, and Walkner is 21 minutes down in eighth.