Sebastien Loeb and co-driver Fabian Lurquin compete during Stage 7 of the Dakar Rally
Sebastien Loeb and co-driver Fabian Lurquin compete during Stage 7 of the Dakar Rally Image Credit: AFP

Sebastien Loeb claimed the Dakar Rally seventh stage to move to the top of the chasing group behind runaway leader Nasser Al Attiyah on Sunday.

Loeb, France’s nine-time world rally champion, was landing his second win of 2022 as the gruelling roadtrip across the Saudi Arabian desert resumed after Saturday’s rest day.

He crossed the finish line at the end of the 402km drive from Riyadh to Al Dawadimi almost five and a half minutes clear of Al Attiyah.

But it was not all plain sailing for the 47-year-old whose best result from five Dakar attempts was second in 2017.

“We had pressure problems over the last 50km, the car wasn’t accelerating, we thought it might pack up three kilometres from the finish,” he said.

Loeb, whose car’s spare wheel hatch flew open on the stage, added: “Only half of the rally is done but we tried to push today even though we were a little unlucky towards the end of the stage with a problem when the car stopped. We were very slow at the end and could have gone even quicker.”

Qatari Al Attiyah steers his Toyota into the second and final week with a huge 44min 59sec lead from Loeb, his fourth Dakar title seemingly his to lose.

France’s Adrien Van Beveren is the new leader of the bike standings after a stage won by Chile’s Jose Cornejo Florimo and which proved costly to Sam Sunderland.

The Briton lined up at the start leading the two-wheeled hunt for the 2022 title but ended it down in fourth after losing 20 minutes.

Beveren, who arrived at the finish in 11th, is for once enjoying some luck after failing to finish the last four editions.

And after all the blood, sweat and tears for little or no reward, he was understandably moved at his change of fortune.

“After all that’s gone before this is such a pleasurable feeling,” said the Yamaha rider, fighting back tears.

But while Beveren rides on, for Australian Daniel Sanders, who was lying third overall, this Dakar is over.

The KTM rider crashed on the way to the start. He was taken to hospital but his injuries were reported not to be serious by the medical services.