Dakar rescue party in search for Briton

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A search party has been sent to rescue British motorcyclist Nick Plumb after the Team Dome BMW rider went missing during the Dakar Rally yesterday. The 25-year-old failed to report for the start of the 393km eighth stage in Mauritania and is believed to have spent Wednesday night alone in the west African desert.

Plumb suffered battery failure during stage six on Tuesday and as a result arrived too late at the checkpoint to get any sleep before Wednesday's seventh stage.

He had further battery problems yesterday and split up from his team-mate Simon Pavey several kilometres from the checkpoint. He was not picked up by the sweeper vehicle.

After receiving a call from Plumb's satellite phone, race organisers have sent a helicopter to find him.

In the car category meanwhile France's Stéphane Peterhansel stormed into the lead yesterday after mechanical problems cost his Mitsubishi team-mate Hiroshi Masuoka more than an hour. The Frenchman now leads the Belgian Gregoire De Mevius's BMW by 1hr 4min 38sec. Masuoka subsequently slipped to third place.

The Briton Colin McRae was forced to wait for assistance after suffering serious mechanical difficulties in his Nissan.

Masuoka had to contend with problems of a different kind when he revealed that a Mauritanian army soldier had pointed a gun at him the previous day to demand money when he entered the country.

Germany's Jutta Kleinschmidt, the first woman to win the Dakar, looked likely to be disqualified after starting with a replacement engine in her Volkswagen Touareg.

Back in the motorcycle category, Spain's Nani Roma took the overall lead from French rider Cyril Despres, who suffered a nightmare day. Despres lost his way in the desert after falling and accidentally unplugging his GPS positioning system. He then ran out of fuel.

Today's ninth stage is 736 km from Tidjikja to Nema in eastern Mauritania.