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BMW X-raid stage 3 report

* X-Raid's Chicherit sets fifth fastest time; Novitskiy delayed
* Spaniard Roma slides off the track and loses valuable time
* BMW team prepares for Tuesday's Andes crossing into

FIAMBALA (Argentina): Team X-raid GmbH's Stephane Peterhansel entered the record books by taking his 52nd Dakar Rally stage win in all categories and his 19th in a car on the third 182km special stage between La Rioja and Fiambala in Argentina on Monday.

The stunning performance catapulted the Frenchman and his co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret into the outright rally lead in their Trebur built-BMW X3 CC. The pair will now take a 4m 33s advantage over Spain's Carlos Sainz into the fourth stage across the border in Chile on Tuesday, having beaten the two-time World Rally Champion by 5m 44s on the short stage, which featured the first dune crossings and off-road sections of this year's event.

"It was a good day," said Peterhansel. "We started sixth and finished first. It was not an easy stage, despite the short distance. There were soft dunes, off-piste sections and it was fairly complicated. There were large ridges and a big sandy rise where even the official cars had problems with power. We passed many bikes stopped on the stage.

"The difference today came from the start, because some crews got lost and we had a good navigation option. Then we pushed hard. For the moment, stage victories do not interest me. We want the overall victory. But we are building a good foundation and we will see later."

Peterhansel's team mates, Guerlain Chicherit and Tina Thõrner, completed the special stage in fifth position and leapt up the overall leader board to an unofficial 11th position after first day delays, as Sven Quandt's BMW team continues to take the fight to their main four-wheel rivals.

Spaniard Joan Roma was running well after his accident on Sunday, but he slid into a hole after 95km of the day's stage and damaged his BMW X3 CC. The crew were badly delayed making repairs to the car. Russia's Leonid Novitskiy held ninth position early in the stage, but he too was delayed in the sandy middle section of the leg in a third successive day of mixed fortunes for the X-raid team. The Russian had dropped two hours reaching the 117km checkpoint as the first cars reached the bivouac.

A 259km liaison guided the surviving 130 car entrants to the start of the day's special, which featured sandy sections between the 21km and 117km points, the arrival at the Sierra Pampeanas and a 30km section of towering white sand dunes to test the driver and navigator to the limit before the stage finished at the Fiambala bivouac. The entire stage was held at over 1,400 metres above sea level.

Peterhansel held a slender nine-second advantage over Al-Attiyah through the first 38km of the stage. Chicherit began the test in 28th position in the overall classification and behind the Qatari on the road.

He held a virtual fourth place through the first checkpoint, while Roma - who had started the stage from 18th position sandwiched between South Africa's Alfie Cox and Dutchman Tonni van Deijne -- was running in fifth position. Team X-raid GmbH's rival Giniel de Villiers, the defending Dakar champion, stopped with mechanical problems and was forced to wait for his assistance crew.

Peterhansel extended his virtual stage lead over Al-Attiyah to 1m 22s through 74km, as Roma passed some of the middle order runners to surge into third position. Novitskiy had also moved up the field and was running ninth quickest in the stage, but Roma slid off the stage soon afterwards and was badly delayed.

Peterhansel, the nine-time former winner of the event, continued to show sensational form as the stage progressed and had stretched his virtual stage lead to 5m 44s over Carlos Sainz by the 117km point at the end of the first sandy section and he maintained that pace to the finish.

Tomorrow (Tuesday) the Dakar crosses the spine of the mighty Andes mountain range and arrives in Chile for the first of the true desert stages of this year's event in the southern extremities of the Atacama.

Competitors will cross the border on a 394km liaison, which reaches altitudes of around 4,000 metres, before descending into Chile for the start of the 203km special stage and a short 32km liaison to the overnight halt at Copiapo.

The city is the capital of the Atacama region and Copiapo province in Chile. It is rich in silver and copper deposits and is a major hub for the booming global mining industry.

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