Swollen rivers and flash floods prevented competitors from completing stage 11 between La Rioga and Fiambala in which the leading SA-built Toyota Hilux consolidated its overall second position.
Organisers were forced to halt the already-shortened 190-km special stage just as Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz were leading at the 110km mark in the leading Imperial Toyota Hilux.
Disappointment, however, followed for the team as race officials declared the stage result as per the positions at the earlier checkpoint at the 67km mark. Robbie Gordon and Kellon Walch (Hummer) were declared stage winners ahead of Ronan Chabot/Gilles Pillot (SMG Buggy) and Lucio Alvarez/Roland Graue (Toyota Hilux).
De Villiers and von Zitzewitz had to settle for a disappointing fifth place. De Villiers had been determined to use the notorious Fiambala stage to close the gap over race leaders Stephane Peterhansel and Jean Paul Cottret (Mini) and extend his 16-minute lead over third placed Leonid Novitskiy and Konstantin Zhiltsov (Mini).
Toyota’s team manager Glyn Hall said: ‘Giniel started slowly to protect the tyres in the rocks but once in the big dunes Dirk gave perfect direction and Giniel kept an accurate heading.’
‘It’s a pity what happened today, because we were first on the road,’ said De Villiers. ‘We’d passed Robbie and Stephane. It was not a lucky break for us.’
So the top three positions in the general classification with three days remaining of the 8 500-kilometre marathon rally between Lima in Peru and Santiago in Chile are: 1 Peterhansel/Cottret (Mini) 29 hr 7 min 25 sec, 2 De Villiers/Von Zitzewitz (Toyota Hilux) +51.59 sec, 3 Novitskiy/Zhiltsov (Mini) +1 hr 26 min 40 sec.
The other four South African-built customer Toyota Hilux 4x4s are all still in the top 20, with Australian Geoffrey Olholm and Briton Jonathan Aston 11th overall, Adam Malysz/Rafal Martin (Poland) 14th, Lucio Alvarez/ Roland Graue (Argentina)15th and Nunzio Coffaro/Daniel Meneses (Venezuela) 17th overall.
Thursday’s stage from Fiambala in Argentina to Copiapo sees the surviving 96 car competitors (out of an original 153) cross the Andes Mountains from east to west via the Paso de San Francisco and return to the Atacama Desert.