The Dakar hots up in El Chaco!

From Resistencia, on the banks of the Rio Paraguay, to Tucuman, close to the Andean foothills, participants headed due west today for 800km across the sweeping Argentine lowlands in temperatures reaching 45°C – in the shade...

Ruta 89 passes through the provinces of El Chaco and Santiago del Estero, with countless straight stretches extending for as much as 20 or 30 kilometres at a time. Tiring as that might sound, the sheer volume of traffic on the route was enough to keep everybody alert. Then, bit by bit, the expansive soybean, wheat and tobacco crops made way for intensive farming operations as palm trees found themselves replaced by cacti.

Throughout the day, thousands upon thousands of eager fans appeared to cheer on competitors and support crews. Indeed, in General Pinedo, they went so far as to erect makeshift grandstands at each roundabout!

Just before arriving in Santiago del Estero, participants branched off onto Ruta 34 towards the province of Tucuman, passing vegetation scorched by the blazing sun. At midday, when we reached the end of the special stage, the temperature was a sweltering 45°C in the shade, with the road temperature higher still at 60°C and constantly swept by the relentless wind.

This was perhaps the hottest day that competitors will experience during the 2017 Dakar, but thanks to the efficient air conditioning inside his BFGoodrich-shod Peugeot 3008 DKR, Sébastien Loeb bore no obvious ill-effects from the heat – although the Frenchman did have other issues to contend with: “I spent 70km eating Giniel de Villiers’ dust,” revealed the new rally leader whose top speed approached 200kph at times.

Tomorrow, participants will continue to follow the line of Andes as they travel north in the direction of San Salvador de Jujuy, before crossing into Bolivia, where plenty of rain has been forecast...

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