Hiroshi Masuoka in a Mitsubishi took the lead in the Dakar Rally after winning the tough special stage from Tozeur to El Borma, Tunisia, on Monday, while Richard Sainct consolidated his lead in the motorbike section.

Hiroshi Masuoka in a Mitsubishi took the lead in the Dakar Rally after winning the tough special stage from Tozeur to El Borma, Tunisia on Monday.

Masuoka’s teammate, France's Stephane Peterhansel, who finished the stage in second place, is 55 seconds behind. Nissan’s Kenjiro Shinozuka moved from 11th place in the standings to third place after finishing the stage in third place.

South African Giniel de Villiers dropped to sixth position overall. He finished the stage in ninth place, 17 minutes and 29 seconds behind Masuoka (pictured). “This special stage was very fast, we had no fuel pressure at the start, followed by a puncture... we were unlucky. I was very impressed by Masuoka and Peterhansel, but, after all, we are here to learn. Now we are sixth overall, which isn't too bad,” De Villiers said.

Pascal Maimon, De Villiers’ co-driver added: “Not the best of days ... this morning the engine refused to start and Thierry de Lavergne gave us a tow. During the whole special stage we were suffering from a lack of power, then we had a puncture 240 km into the stage. Fontenay overtook us, then had a puncture as well. But Giniel is adapting well to the terrain, and is hard-working."

Ari Vatanen, in another Nissan, had his first problems of the race, with three punctures. He finished 13th, placing him 11th overall. “The first 100 km were magnificent, we pushed hard and even caught Schlesser. Because of a bad interpretation concerning the use of our tyre inflating/deflating system, we had three punctures. After the third blow-out, we understood our mistake. We were able to limit the damage and even if we lost a few places, the race is far from over,” he said.

In the motorbike race, KTM driver Richard Sainct consolidated his lead, while Fabrizio Meoni of Italy was in second place, 17 seconds off the lead pace. Spain's Joan Roma, also riding a twin-cylinder, is now third overall. Both Meoni and Roma finished the stage with their rear tyres badly damaged.

Alfie Cox, on a KTM 660LC4, finished fifth, 7 min 29 secs behind the winner and dropped to fifth place overall, 8 min 39 sec behind Sainct. "I started passing bikers soon after the start. They were however not confident enough to ride with me, so I found myself doing the lonely rider thing for most of the day. The disadvantage is you cannot judge your speed or ride with someone to help you keep up the pace,” said Cox.

"I am very satisfied with my performance to date and I believe my strategy will pay off in the end. (In the next stage) I start in fifth place behind the top guns and if I catch them they will ride with me, which is much better than being alone. In the process I should make up a reasonable amount of time," he said.

In the experimental class for quads, Vicus van Deventer was ahead of the pack and making up time on the leader when he had some problems between the final checkpoint and the finish. This cost him dearly and he dropped back to fourth place overall.

Tuesday’s stage from El Borma to Ghadames, over a total distance of 278 km, includes a special stage of 228km. Ghadames is situated in the furthest southern end of Tunisia, about 800 km from Tunis, accommodating the Dakar fraternity on the final night in Tunisia, before crossing into Libya.