- Argentina - Chile - Dakar rally - rallying
AFP - Spanish Volkswagen driver and former world rally champion Carlos Sainz and compatriot Mara Coma are setting the pace after the opening three stages of the Dakar Rally - although Qatar's Nasser Al-Attiyah (BMW) pipped Sainz to Monday's special.
Attiyah nipped in by 35sec to take the honours following a 551km special from Puerto Madryn to Jacobacci.
Volkswagen's Sainz nonetheless leads the Qatari by 3min 40sec.
Germany's Dieter Depping was third on the day, 1min 40sec off the pace.
In the overall standings, South Africa's Volkswagen driver Giniel De Villiers stands third 5min 45sec behind Sainz after finishing fourth in the stage.
Mitsubishi's Luc Alphand - champion in 2006 - suffered technical problems to lose ground on the leading group.
Spain's Marc Coma of KTM won the third motorcycle stage as fellow KTM rider Cyril Despres, who won the event in 2005 and 2007, lost more ground.
Coma saw off KTM pair Norwegian Pal Anders Ullevalseter and Spaniard Jordi Viladoms by 17min 49sec.
Despres is languishing in 33rd spot after a dreadful start and the Frenchman now trails Coma by more than an hour and a half.
Coma has established a 39min 11sec lead over Frenchman David Fretigne (Yamaha) and leads Dutchman Frans Verhoeven (KTM) by 41min 14sec).
The 2009 edition of the gruelling race has been switched this year from Africa to Argentina and Chile because of security fears.
It features 540 competitors from 50 countries and covers 9,000 kilometres spread over 13 stages - three in Chile and 10 in Argentina - with the finish scheduled for Buenos Aires on January 18.
The 2008 Dakar, which was to have started in Lisbon before heading to Africa, was cancelled the day before the scheduled start because of specific terrorist threats made againt the event.
It was the first cancellation in the history of the race since its inception in 1979 due to security concerns after four French tourists were murdered in Mauritania.