Saudi Arabia: Sebastien Loeb gave Bahrain Raid Xtreme a second successive stage victory in the Dakar Rally today as Prodrive Hunters dominated proceedings with a 1-2-3 result in Saudi Arabia.
Partnered by Fabian Lurquin, Loeb secured his third win in this year’s event on the 358km ninth stage from Riyadh to Haradh to boost his challenge for a podium finish in his BRX Prodrive Hunter.
Loeb was fastest from the start, and set the pace for almost the entire day, briefly conceding the lead to the Prodrive Hunter of Vaidotas Zala at one point, eventually beating the Lithuanian into second place by 57 secs. This was despite a 2 min 10 secs road section time penalty.
Stage three winners Guerlain Chicherit and Alex Winocq set the third fastest time in their Prodrive Hunter, making it the fifth stage in a row that the trio of cars each running on sustainable fuel had all finished in the top ten.
Loeb’s 19th Dakar Rally stage victory lifted him to third place in the overall standings, as Qatar’s Nasser Al Attiyah, almost nine minutes off the pace on the day in eighth, still extended his overall advantage to 1 hr 21 mins 57 secs in his Toyota over Brazil’s Lucas Moraes.
While a succession of earlier setbacks have left Loeb 1 hr 43 mins behind Al Attiyah, the nine-time World Rally Champion now leads the Qatari in the World Rally-Raid Championship points standings, with five more stages remaining in this year’s opening round.
Following the rest day in Riyadh, today’s stage took the cars through wadis presenting a difficult navigational test, and pools of water left by recent rain, before crossing a range of dunes leading to the finish.
There was double drama early on as second-placed Henk Lategan lost around 40 minutes when mechanical problems stopped his Toyota, and Carlos Sainz rolled the Audi which had led the rally over the first two stages.
Sainz was initially airlifted towards hospital for a medical check-up, but later asked for the helicopter to turn around and reunite him with co-driver Lucas Cruz to resume the rally.
Loeb finished the stage to say, “We had a little moment when we had a problem with the road section, but after that I tried really hard in and we made it a good stage. It was very tricky for navigation and we lost some time in three or four places, but it was tough for everybody because the motorbike lines were wrong.”
Zala commented, “That was a good day. We started tenth, and when we began overtaking cars, I knew we would be ok. The only risky places were the wadis, which had a lot of water. We decided to cross straight on at one point, and almost got stuck there.”
Chicherit said, “The car was awesome like always, but was upset with Alex and me because we made a mistake, got lost, and took a lot of time to get back on the right track. We also had to change a flat tyre. We had a good speed, but we’re a bit annoyed.”