Bengaluru, Jaunaury 9: Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah powered back into Dakar Rally contention by winning the third stage though defending champion Stefan Peterhansel took the overall lead.
Run over 500km of dirt and sand tracks through imposing Peruvian canyons from Pisco and San Juan de Marcona, Al Attiyah and his French co-driver Mathieu Baumel blew the field wide open by powering their Toyota Hilux four minutes faster than Peterhansel.
The Qatari had won the opening stage, but suffered badly in the second when Baumel fell sick after just 15km.
"There's still a long way and we believe our Toyota Hilux is a good car and we'll do our best like we did in the third stage," said Al Attiyah, who is a two-time Dakar champion.
It was a better day for Carlos Sainz, who finished third 05min 47sec adrift, having suffered engine failure on day one.
Second stage winner Cyril Despres lost over eight minutes, but avoided disaster.
Al Attiyah is third overall in the standings with Despres hanging on to his second place.
The Red Bull athlete's experience came to the fore as he had one tyre come out of the rim and suffered a puncture, but was still able to close the gap with the leaders, though he admitted that he would have liked to have made up even more time.
"We had two flat tyres and lost around three minutes, but it wasn't a big deal," Al Attiyah said.
We won the stage, which was good. We needed to push, but not really crazily. It wasn't a big push, because the road really isn't easy and very dangerous in some places. It was a good performance and I'm quite happy to win. I think, overall, we're in a good position now," he added.
Former football manager Andre Villas-Boas, who is making his Dakar debut in another Toyota Hilux is 41st overall.
The fourth stage action starts down on the beach at San Juan de Marcona. The 330km timed special stage will loop the competitors back to the bivouac. Expect navigation errors to play their part in creating and reducing gaps at the front of the field once again.
(Source: Red Bull/Agencies)