Hirvonen happy with the opening stages of the 2018 Dakar Rally

Peterhansel stays top after eventful Dakar fourth stage

A spinal injury has forced reigning motorcycle class victor Sam Sunderland out of the event, while Yamaha claimed a 1-2 on the stage that put France's Adrien Van Beveren into the lead.

Sunderland, riding for dominant team KTM and leading the overall rankings coming into the stage in San Juan de Marcona, withdrew after injuring his back while entering a jump according to the rally organizers.

Van Beveren finished five minutes ahead of teammate Xavier de Soultrait, with Austria's Matthias Walkner seven minutes off the pace on his KTM. He also moved into the overall lead, taking a 1:55 advantage over Pablo Quintanilla of Chile. The KTM rider has been transported by medical helicopter to the bivouac after being ruled out of finishing the fourth stage.

It was Stage 4 that turned last year's Dakar Rally on its head, and 2018 has been no different.

The former champions who started the day second and third overall dropped out of title contention.

Santosh made a decision to play it safe and steady as the rally neared the halfway mark to finish the stage at 52nd position.

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"We started the stage today on the beach". I tried to push myself hard and did all I could and so I managed to cross a lot of riders. We were following Al-Attiyah and saw him go over, so we did the same, but I hadn't realised there was a hole behind the crest.

"I'm happy because I came back and caught everybody and then I opened the way for more than one hundred kilometres in the end".

With the WRC legend ruled out, his Peugeot teammates Peterhansel and Carlos Sainz were left standing as the two frontrunners in the vehicle class, and it was the former who bolstered his chances with a strong time through Wednesday's test. Peterhansel's general classification lead stands at 6m55s from Loeb with Sainz another six minutes further back, while Toyota's best hope Al-Attiyah is now nearly an hour behind the leader after a nightmare day.

Peugeot's Sebastien Loeb during Stage 4 of the 2018 Dakar Rally. Stephane Peterhansel of France and copilot Jean Paul Cottret of France drive their Peugeot.

Peugeot's pursuit of a swansong win lie with Loeb, Sainz and Peterhansel, as early Rally leader Cyril Despres broke a wheel and his rear suspension 180km into the test and has yet to make it to the following waypoint.

Toyota endured a hellish fourth stage with two-time Dakar victor Nasser Al-Attiyah and team-mate Giniel de Villiers both stopping on the course for separate issues and lost a huge chunk of time.

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