As riders and drivers battled across the unforgiving Mauritanian landscape, the Dakar Rally leader board changed dramatically with the retirement of rally ace, Colin McRae.

As riders and drivers battled across the unforgiving Mauritanian landscape, the Dakar Rally leader board changed dramatically with the retirement of rally ace, Colin McRae.

In Wednesday’s special stage of 492 kilometres across sand dunes riddled with rocks and high-speed sandy tracks, the stage leader was one of the day’s main casualties.

Entrants were forced to contend with a strong wind and reduced visibility on the route between Smara and Zouerat. Going over a bump just before the third checkpoint, McRae rolled and crashed the Nissan Hardbody heavily. Luckily both driver and co-driver, Tina Thorner, escaped with only minor injuries.

However, yesterday's reports that the Mitsubishi of 2003 winner Hiroshi Masuoka would have to be withdrawn after a crash were apparently not true as the Japanese driver finished Wednesday’s stage in second position.

Meanwhile, last year’s winner in the Car category, Stephane Peterhansel in his Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution, finished the stage first to move into fifth position overall.

"The day wasn't too bad for us," said Peterhansel. "I took some risks today because I had to catch up some lost time. And it worked. We're back for the overall classification, even if the race is still very long and a lot of things will still happen.”

After finishing the day’s stage in fifth position, Bruno Saby in a Volkswagen Touareg, slipped into first position overall, while Mitsubishi’s consistent Luc Alphand now lies second in the event.

Giniel de Villiers started the day in second place behind McRae, but losing time to caution and punctures, finished the stage in 11th position and now lies seventh overall.

KTM dominated the Bike competition as Fabrizio Meoni, Pal-Anders Ullevalseter, and Alfie Cox secured the top three positions on the stage. The new overall Bike leader, Cyril Despres, finished the day in fourth spot.

"It was a beautiful stage today," commented Meoni. "I'm very happy. I've always said that for me the rally was to begin in Mauritania, because yesterday's stage wasn't designed for me. I only like navigation and sand. Last year, I had lost the rally here, because of my bib, so I was scared to do the same. In fact, at the end of the stage, I suffered that problem so I reduced the pace, but with my good navigation, I won."

Last year’s Truck champion, Vladimir Tchaguine (Kamaz), took his third successive stage win on Wednesday and increased his overall lead by more than 25 minutes.

Hans Bekx’s DAF experienced no problems and finished the stage in second place, ahead of overall second-placed Firdau Kabirov (Kamaz). Bekx’s Wednesday performance has now ensured him third place overall.