Riyadh: Sebastien Loeb recorded a dramatic stage victory for Bahrain Raid Xtreme in the Dakar Rally today after another classic battle with Carlos Sainz and overall leader Nasser Al Attiyah in Saudi Arabia.
Loeb and Fabian Lurquin in their BRX Prodrive Hunter won the 346km eighth stage from Al Duwadimi to Riyadh by 2 mins 11 secs from Al Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel to climb to fourth place in the overall rankings.
Sainz and Lucas Cruz had led the stage for much of the day, but dropped two places when they collected a five-minute penalty after finishing in their Audi for speeding in a restricted zone.
The result saw nine-time World Rally Champion Loeb continuing his rise up the rankings following a series of earlier setbacks, while Al Attiyah extended his outright advantage to 1hr 3mins 46secs over Toyota team-mate, South African Henk Lategan.
For the fourth day in a row, three Prodrive Hunters finished in the top ten, with Guerlain Chicherit and Alex Winocq clocking the sixth best time and Vaidotas Zala with Paulo Fiuza in tenth spot.
Loeb’s second stage win, and the third for BRX following Chicherit’s victory last Tuesday, gave the Frenchman another World Rally-Raid Championship points boost as the power of the Prodrive Hunter again shone through.
Starting off through stony valleys, the stage broke out across the dunes up to the refuelling station, with the rest of the route setting a tough test of navigation along fast tracks and long valley sections.
It became the scene of another gripping Dakar battle between the world’s best drivers, with Loeb setting the early pace before Sainz grabbed the initiative and Al Attiyah stayed in the hunt to keep the outcome uncertain to the finish.
With tomorrow being a rest day, the crews will enjoy some well-earned relaxation before the Dakar actions returns with the 358km ninth stage on Tuesday.
There will be little rest, however, for the remainder of the 67-strong BRX team in Saudi. They will work round the clock to prepare the three Prodrive Hunters, each running on EcoPower fuel, created by Coryton, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 80% compared to petrol.