Hirvonen happy with the opening stages of the 2018 Dakar Rally

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Tuesday's 205-mile special stage pushed the Dakar Rally racers and their machines to the limit on the route around San Juan de Marcona in Peru. He lost two hours waiting for assistance before continuing but, with co-driver Daniel Elena in pain from the jolt in the dunes, had to accept defeat.

And at the first taste of the high-speed stages in the Dakar, the man has pulled out all stops to register his first win in Dakar 2018.

It was a nice day for team Peugeot which managed to clock the top three for the second time in this race with Stephane Peterhansel still leading the charge, six minutes ahead of Loeb. "We tried to put air back in and we were stuck again for 30 or 20 minutes".

Loeb beat Carlos Sainz by 95 seconds, followed by Peterhansel for a Peugeot sweep of the podium.

The Gazoo Racing SA Toyotas fought back on Wednesday, with Dutch driver Bernhard ten Brinke ending up second on the stage, 4m32s behind Peterhansel and ahead of South African star Giniel de Villiers, Sainz and Nasser Al Attiyah.

Ten Brinke is 1:15:16 behind Peterhansel.

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"It certainly wasn't the start we wanted", admitted De Villers afterwards, "but fortunately we didn't lose too much time today, and we finished the day 13 minutes behind Peterhansel - if we hadn't got stuck near the start, we could have finished much closer".

Walkner, who is now third in the overall standings, said: "I lost a lot of time and had many crashes in the soft dunes. We had two flat tyres at the beginning and afterwards we took care because we didn't have any spares", al-Attiyah told the Dakar website. While the former trails by just one minute, the latter is behind Van Beveren by one minute and 14 seconds.

Cyril Despres (Peugeot) and Nasser Al-Attiyah (Toyota) lost their places in the top three to Loeb and Sainz, who is third and around 13 minutes behind Peterhansel, after a bad day in the Peruvian desert.

Joan Barreda Bort moved up from 14th fourth overall with a masterful ride on Stage 5. "It was a very good day especially in a very hard stage, with the dunes and the navigation needed".

Reigning bikes champion Sunderland dropped out of this year s race with a back injury and was taken to Lima for medical checks, allowing Frenchman Adrien Van Beveren to take the overall lead after winning Tuesday s fourth stage. The Sherco TVS Factory Rally team rider was placed 44th after the fourth stage.