THE LONGEST STAGE: South Africa's Leeroy Poulter put in an awesome drive in his Toyota Hilux on Monday to finish 11th on Day 2 of the 2015 Dakar. Image: Marc Bow
SAN JUAN, Argentina - The longest single stage of Dakar 2015 - 518km of rocks, sand and dust. That's what the crews faced on the leg from the riverside town of Villa Carlos Paz to arid San Juan, near the foothills of the Andes.
And for a period shortly after the start of the stage it was the name of Leeroy Poulter that was on everybody's lips as he went fastest of all from one checkpoint after the other. Together with navigator Rob Howie, the Toyota Imperial Hilux driver looked like a strong contender to win the stage but in the end had to settle for 11th on the day.
WATCH the Stage 2 action
"We started the stage at a fast pace," Poulter said from the bivouac at San Juan. "The car felt fantastic but towards the end of the stage we caught up to the crews ahead of us and that put a stop to our progress.
“Overall it was a good day, though we would have liked to have finished as strong as we started this morning."
AL-ATTIYAH PAYS PENALTY
During most of the morning it seemed Poulter/Howie (#327) were setting the pace but in reality it was Nasser al-Attiyah (Mini) who had been going fastest. His car had suffered a transponder problem so his times were not showing on the Dakar's system until he exited the mammoth stage.
Stage 2 (Jan 5) started with Orlando Terranova (Mini) in the lead of the race after early leader al-Attiyah was penalised for speeding in a controlled zone on Day 1.
This moved the Mini driver down to seventh and promoted Toyota Imperial driver Giniel de Villiers and navigator Dirk von Zitzewitz to third overall - with American showman Robbie Gordon in between. Gordon had trouble early on Stage 2, leaving De Villiers/Von Zitzewitz to duke it out with the Argentine Mini driver Terranova ahead of them.
De Villiers said on Monday evening: "We had another solid day today, and conquering this long stage is a relief. Terranova and Nasser each drove well today but we’re happy to be second at this stage."
Terranova demonstrated just how easy it was to lose time on the Dakar when he went off-piste after leading the rally for most of Stage 2. The incident cost him 20 minutes only a few kilometres from the end of the stage, losing the lead of the rally and missing out on the stage win.
Today (Tuesday) competitors will face a 284km stage that will start only 26km from the bivouac at San Juan.
The route will meander through some of the most spectacular scenery in Argentina with towering red peaks and stunning sandy gullies before ending 232km from the town of Chilecito, where Tuesday night’s next bivouac is located.
Toyota SA team principal Glyn Hall said after Stage 2: "We’d hoped to be in the lead at this point. Building a buffer early on is imperative for us as the race moves to higher altitudes tomorrow.
“Peaking at 3000m on Stage 3 may not be the highest point on the 2015 Dakar but it certainly won't help our cause. That said, we can't be disappointed with Giniel and Dirk second and Leeroy now in 11th.
“There's still a lot of racing to come!"
Stay with Wheels24 for daily coverage of the 2015 Dakar Rally.