Hiroshi Masuoka grabbed his second consecutive victory in the Dakar Rally on Sunday after overall leader Stephane Peterhansel was hit with mechanical problems. Richard Sainct took the motorcycle title.

Hiroshi Masuoka grabbed his second consecutive victory in the Dakar Rally on Sunday after overall leader Stephane Peterhansel was hit with mechanical problems. Richard Sainct took the motorcycle title.

Peterhansel, who was coasting to victory, ran into trouble on Saturday, first he was plagued by oil heating, an engine failure, a puncture and, finally, blinded by the dust of a Volkswagen, the Frenchman hit a rock and destroyed his front left wheel. That ended his bid to emulate race creator Hubert Auriol, the only man to win on two and four wheels.

"I rolled in the dust behind Jutta Kleinschmidt and we were practically at a stop," said Peterhansel. "Her car kicked up so much dust and we hit a rock. It's been a day of catastrophes but that's mechanical sports. You think that you have the race in hand but in fact you know that in this sport anything can happen until you get to the finish line,” he said.

Jean-Pierre Fontenay finished second overall and Peterhansel was third, Carlos Sousa fourth and Giniel de Villiers was fifth.

The 17th and final stage was essentially a 56km lap of honour that ended in Sharm El Sheik. The stage was won by Ari Vatanen, who gave Nissan its fifth stage victory, his fourth in this year’s race. Vatanen finished seventh overall. Giniel de Villiers, despite a broken camshaft, managed to finish the stage in 56th position. Thierry de Lavergne put in a good performance, coming in sixth.

“I was surprised by the difficulty and the intensity of the Dakar. I am aware that I have learnt a lot, and that this experience will serve me well in the future. Most especially, I learnt a lot about sand dunes, something relatively new for me. I will be back for the next Dakar, sharper and determined to claim stage wins,” said De Villiers,

“We had a big scare this morning, when the camshaft broke after 18 km. The car was going slowly, but we could not stop. To go through the checkpoint, Pascal got out and started to run alongside the car … it was both funny and potentially tragic. But we are here, and our fifth place in the overall classification proves how consistent we have been. The car performed extremely well, and we have done a lot of work during the race. We will continue to develop it, to be really at the top,” he said.

Sainct, riding a KTM, won the overall motorbike category for the third time, edging out compatriot Cyril Despres and Italy's double champion, Fabrizio Meoni. He won five specials in the process. Per-Gunnar Lundmark of Sweden won the final stage ahead of Pal Anders Ullevalseter of Norway.

"I have as much pleasure as the first time. Today I'm more than satisfied. It'll take some days to realise but it's a great day,” said Sainct. And he hinted that he would like to try the car section. "If someone handed me a serious project for the cars then why not give it a go? I'd like to give it a go," said Sainct.

Despres was happy with second spot. "It's a great joy today finishing in second place overall, and having gone through this fabulous Dakar 2003. It's something that any sportsman awaits. It just shows you have to work and never give up,” he said.

The 16th stage on Saturday was won by Italy's Miki Biasion in a Mitsubishi, while Despres won the motorcycle section. On Friday, Nissan’s Vatanen and Meoni triumphed.

In the truck race, Vladimir Tchaguine was the overall winner, while South African Hannes Grobler finished in 18th overall position. Czech Josef Machacek won the quad category.