Bengaluru, January 14: On a day of high drama and action, Spaniard Carlos Sainz seized the lead in the Dakar Rally from Peugeot team-mate Stephane Peterhansel after the defending champion struck a rock and lost an hour and 45 minutes repairing his car.
Sainz won the 425km timed section of the 727km seventh stage from La Paz to Uyuni to lead Toyota's Qatari driver Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah by an hour and 11 minutes.
"Actually it was quite difficult with lots of off-piste at the start of the day. After that came some good roads and I was able to push a little bit more. We had no problems today. We're all in survival mode now with such a long way to go because anything can still happen at this race," said Sainz.
Red Bull athlete Al Attiyah, was one of the pre-rally favourites, and is now back in contention.
"I've never lived a Dakar like this... We're crazy! But I'm happy to bring the Toyota here, I'm quite happy. There's still seven days of racing left. It's a marathon stage, so we need to work on the car ourselves. We just need to change the tyres," said two-time champion Al Attiyah.
Peterhansel, who had been 27 minutes ahead of Sainz after leading the rally from Peru into Bolivia, hit trouble while trying to overtake a motorbike at the 186km mark and came to a halt.
The Peugeot's left rear wheel, upper suspension link, shock absorber and radiator were all damaged.
The Frenchman was helped back on the road by compatriot and team mate Cyril Despres, the five-time Dakar winner who had long dropped out of contention for the overall victory.Peterhansel ended the stage third overall, an hour and 20 minutes off the lead.
Peugeot, who are pulling out of the South American event after this year, will now be hoping 2010 Dakar winner and two-times world rally champion Sainz keeps out of trouble in motorsport's most gruelling endurance test.
Sunday (January 14) sees the longest special stage of the rally, a 498km timed section from Uyuni to Tupiza that includes high-altitude sand dunes at 3,500 metres.
The rally finishes in Cordoba, Argentina, on January 20.
(With Agencies/Red Bull Media inputs)