Loeb new
Sebastien Loeb & Fabian Lurquin, Bahrain Raid Xtreme Prodrive Hunter during the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: Sebastien Loeb recorded an emphatic stage victory for Bahrain Raid Xtreme in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge on Thurs day to reinforce his title bid in the World Rally-Raid Championship.

Loeb and co-driver Fabian Lurquin in the BRX Prodrive Hunter collected maximum championship points on the day by winning the rally’s penultimate special stage with 6 mins 59 secs to spare over South African Hendrix Lategan in a Toyota.

Al Attiyah's exit

Nasser Al Attiyah’s exit from the event on Wednesday night following a big crash on stage 3 means Loeb is guaranteed to hold the W2RC lead at the completion of the Desert Challenge on Friday.

If the nine-time World Rally Champion can close with another stage victory, he will carry a 16-point championship advantage over the Qatari towards April’s third round in Mexico, with others to follow in Argentina and Morocco.

Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al Rajhi, third fastest on the day in his Toyota, more than nine minutes adrift of Loeb, is the new overall Desert Challenge leader, by 10 mins 27 secs from 2018 rally winner Martin Prokop in a Ford Raptor. Denis Krotov in a Mini holds the third podium place.

Delayed start

Early morning fog delayed day’s start by two hours and resulted in the stage, which should have been the longest of the rally, being shortened from 308km to 173km for the cars. A final stage of 206km leads to the finish in Abu Dhabi on Friday afternoon.

Loeb finished the stage to say: “It’s great to be winning again and on top of the results, so thank you to the team for the hard work they’ve done.

“It wasn’t an easy stage to read as there were some broken dunes, and you had to be extra careful as you couldn’t see where they were. We could’ve been in sixth gear in many more places than we were, no problem, but we had to be very careful.

Stage misfortunes

“We had one big landing that was a big hit, so it proved you can get caught. But the car took it and we’re back at the bivouac all together. For the championship, today brings more points, but we must finish tomorrow to get those points when we return to Abu Dhabi.”

Without the first stage misfortunes, which dropped them from overall contention, this has been another impressive display by Loeb and the Prodrive Hunter.

They took an immediate W2RC lead in January’s Dakar Rally, helped by a record six back-to-back stage victories, and the winning combination was at its best again today.