A flat out race of over 275km defined day two at the 2017 Dakar Rally as some pre-race favourites made big statements in the car and bike races. There was no catching Sébastien Loeb (FRA) of Team Peugeot Total in the car contest while Toby Price (AUS) of the Red Bull KTM Factory Team was quickest on two wheels between Resistencia and San Miguel de Tucumán.
Nine-time WRC title winner Loeb and his co-driver Daniel Elena (MON) have wasted little time adding to the four stage victories they collected during their Dakar debut 12 months ago. This duo and their PEUGEOT 3008 DKR powered through a course that allowed them to press home their two-wheel drive advantage over their competitors while showing unbelievable car control.
Loeb’s closest challenger was yesterday’s stage winner Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT) as the Toyota Gazoo Racing driver came home 1m23m behind the Frenchman. The Qatari is now 28s behind Loeb in the general classification as an intriguing battle begins to emerge. Nasser has even taken the unorthodox step of removing the air conditioning unit from his Hilux to cut down on the vehicle’s overall weight in a bid for improved power. The leading drivers also have team-mates in close attendance at the head of the leaderboard with Peugeot’s Carlos Sainz (ESP) third overall and Toyota’s Giniel De Villiers (RSA) sitting fourth. Loeb was tucked in behind De Villiers for the last 70km of today’s special stage because the amount of dust would not let the Frenchman get close enough to the South African to sound the sentinel.
The PEUGEOT 3008 DKRs of Stéphane Peterhansel (FRA) and Cyril Despres (FRA) slipped a little off the pace on Stage Two. Despres suffered from a damaged sentinel antenna which made overtaking motorbikes tricky in places on today’s stage. Both Frenchmen are now aiming to cut the gap between themselves and the leaders in the coming stages. It was also a race of attrition on the bikes and the man to step up to the plate was none other than reigning champ Toby Price. The first-ever Australian to win the Dakar stayed on the pace to secure his 7th stage victory at the toughest motorsport event on the planet.
Price’s fellow Red Bull KTM Factory Team members Matthias Walkner (AUT) and Sam Sunderland (GBR) also fought hard on a stage that saw the speedometer hitting 170kph. Sunderland now sits third in the overall standings behind Price in the lead while Walkner finds himself 7m39s behind due to a five-minute penalty on account of losing his stamp card on the stage. Offering stern competition to the KTM riders on the opening days of the Dakar have been the Honda Factory Team and this battle promises plenty of drama in the coming days.
Over in the quad race Ignacio Casale (CHI) kept pace with the quickest riders to pick up fourth place on the stage and climb to fifth overall. With 6m25s to make up on quad leader Pablo Copetti (ARG) there’s plenty for the Chilean racer to get his teeth into on the upcoming stages. Team Kamaz Master continue to practise patience in the truck race as they keep overall leader Martin Van Den Brink (NLD) in their sights. Dmitry Sotnikov is second in the general classification, just 3m09s behind the Dutch leader, while fellow Kamaz truckers Eduard Nikolaev, Anton Shibalov and Ayrat Mardeev are all poised for a leap up the rankings.
Tomorrow sees a rise in altitude as the Dakar convoy heads west to San Salvador de Jujuy, reaching 5,000 metres above sea level on the way. Cars, bikes and quads have more than 350km of timed racing ahead of them with plenty of offroad challenges to overcome. In addition to the altitude, there’s some testing navigation to come early on tomorrow. It’s a shorter route for the trucks but the 199km against the clock still has plenty of potential pitfalls for crews such as Team Kamaz Master to watch out for.