Keeping track of the toughest Dakar yet

Searing heat, challenging conditions and punctures plague Dakar 2014 participants.

FILE: South African Brett Cummings, pictured here at the start of Dakar 2013, is competing this year in the malle-moto class.

A top rally manager has described this year's Dakar Rally as the toughest one yet. Speaking after a third stage, plagued with troubles, Team Imperial Toyota Manager Glyn Hall told EWN the difficult conditions and bad luck with punctures have led to the entire rally being turned on its head

Punctures have been the bane of the front runners so far - on stage three, defending champion, and Dakar Legend, Stephane Peterhansel had to deal with 6 punctures, finishing stage 3 in 29th position, dropping him into fifth position overall.

Giniel De Villiers suffered a similar fate having to attend to several of his own punctures. Despite de Villiers's woes, stage three was a good one for South Africa, with Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie of Team Imperial Toyota coming in third.

On the bikes, Broadlink KTM's Riaan Van Niekerk finished in 13th position, and is running twelfth overall. KTM boss Alex Doringer is happy with his team's progress, despite a crash that saw Rueben Faria forced to withdraw from the race. Faria was not seriously injured, but the accident ended his Dakar dream for this year at least. Statistically, the Dakar Rally is way more dangerous on two wheels than on four, with the bulk of participant fatalities in the race's history being motorcyclists.

Another South African competing in the challenging malle-moto class is Brett Cummings. He's also on a KTM bike, but without any support crew to back him up. That means that every day is a double dose of hard work, the adrenaline of racing, and the need to simply survive. Cummings has told EWN of the intense heat on the route, and the added stress of going it alone.

The rally's organisers have made no secret of the fact that this year's event is harder than those of previous years. With 13 stages, covering over 10,000km, they've added distance to almost every stage. They've also split the bikes and quads off from the cars and trucks for special stages.

EWN's Derek Alberts is following the Dakar stage by stage, riding shotgun with Team Imperial Toyota. Get his daily rundown here.

For full coverage of the 2014 Dakar Rally, click here