SAN JUAN, Argentina – South African Leeroy Poulter’s impressive start to his first Dakar Rally continued in Argentina when he and co-driver Rob Howie finished the racing section of Stage 3 (San Luis to San Juan) in third place in their SA-built Toyota Hilux.The pair also improved their overall position to 10th with their time of 3hr02min11 for the special, 3min19 slower than stage-winners Nani Roma and Michel Perin (Mini) and 2min12 behind the Krzysztof Holowczyc and Konstantin Zhiltsov (Mini).‘WE HAD A TROUBLE-FREE RUN’Roma and Perin are also first in the overall classification after three stages, 9min06 ahead of Orlando Terranova and Paulo Fiuza (Mini) and 10min00 clear of Nasser al-Attiyah and co-driver Lucas Cruz (Mini).The South Africans are the leaders by 45min10.It was another fine performance by Poulter, who combined a cautious approach to several rocky sections in river beds where many others picked up punctures and attacked the fast, rally-type sections that were similar to South African conditions.Poulter said: “We had a trouble-free run and managed to keep out of trouble. We took it relatively easy in the rocky sections to avoid picking up punctures and were able to make up good time in faster, more open sections.“Dust was again a big problem, which made overtaking very difficult, but the spectators are amazing. They line the streets of the cities and towns on the liaison sections and even on long stretches of the racing stages.“They cheer you on and their support is very uplifting. This is what the Dakar is all about and I’m loving it.”SA IN SIXTHToyota team mates Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz maintained their sixth place overall despite picking up three punctures and finishing the special stage in 13th. The pair lost more than 13 minutes and trail Roma/Perin by 26 minutes.De Villiers said: “The stage was a lot tougher than we expected – quite technical with lots of thorn bushes and rocks. Our built-in jack didn’t work so we had to change the first two flat wheels manually.“We battled with the first one for six to seven minutes but the second took only four. We finished the stage on a slow puncture.“We managed to defend sixth place but the intention was to close the gap to the leaders and now we’re even further behind. We’ll have to see what we can do about that in the next few days.”HEADED FOR CHILECITOThe competitors face 658km of racing and a 200km liaison from San Juan to Chilecito on January 9 2014. At 858km, it’s the longest stage they’ve faced since the historic stretch from Zouerat to Tichit in Africa in 2005.They will have to cross rivers, descend into canyons and beware of fellow competitors as the wide-open spaces will allow overtaking. The first car will leave the San Juan bivouac at 11.15am SA local time with arrival at Chilecito for the overnight stop from 10.25pm (SA local). Bookmark Wheels24's special Dakar Rally section to keep up with event news and results.