TOBY Price has roared back into the lead of the Dakar Rally, winning Stage 8 as his chief rival came to grief.
The Australian was peerless on the 534 kilometre test from Salta to Belen in Argentina, the first of the event’s ‘traditional’ stages that took competitors into the sand dunes.
Price beat Goncalves by over five minutes, the Honda rider struggling through the stage after an early crash broke his navigational equipment.
“It’s been a good day,” Price said, after his fourth stage win of this year’s race.
“It was never perfect. We still made a couple of little errors in there. I think we got a little bit lucky on a couple of caps. When we got to the end the way point opened for me and I was all good to go.
“If I’d had to lead out a stage like that I think it would’ve been pretty good.”
Goncalves and Price are the only realistic contenders for outright victory remaining in the motorcycle class, and with five stages remaining it is the Australian holding a two minute edge.
“With Paulo, me and him are battling,” he said.
“It’s pretty much day for day. We take time off each other and I think it’s going to come down to minutes and seconds by the end of the week.
“He’s a real strong competitor and he’s got a lot more navigation skills than what I do, but we’re trying our best and keeping ourselves in front as much as we can.
“It is a little bit stressful, but once you throw your leg over the bike and you get going, we just have to make sure we make all the right calls and be confident with what we decide to do. We did that today and we’ve come out pretty good.”
The event’s second Marathon Stage is up next, and although a stunning outright victory is tantalisingly within reach, Price’s plan is simply to make it through the stage cleanly.
“We’ll just make sure we get through and in one piece,” he said.
“For sure this is another important part of the Dakar now. Having the marathon stage, we’ve got to make sure on the first day that we don’t do anything silly and break the bike or damage the bike in any way because it makes the second day a whole lot worse.
“We’ve just got to make sure we get through and look after ourselves those two days.”
In the car category Sebastien Loeb’s dream Dakar debut has come crashing down, the Frenchman rolling his Peugeot late in the stage.
Reigning winner Nasser Al-Attiyah took his first stage win of the event from Peugeot’s Carlos Sainz and Stephane Peterhansel, the latter moving into the lead with Loeb’s dramas.
The nine-time WRC champion lost a few minutes early in the stage when he became stuck among the dunes, before his Peugeot rolled in a river bed just 30 kilometres from the end of the stage.
Remarkably, Loeb and navigator Daniel Elena repaired the machine enough to get it back to the overnight stop to keep his rally alive.
The dramas see Loeb slip back to eighth overall, over an hour behind rally leader Peterhansel.
Australians Peter Jerie and Dale Moscatt have continued their steady climb up the leaderboard, the pair ending the day 33rd overall after a 38th place stage finish in their Toyota Hilux.