Hermosillo, Mexico: Sebastien Loeb took the outright lead in the Sonora Rally with a superb stage victory for Bahrain Raid Xtreme as Prodrive Hunters dominated second day proceedings in Mexico.
Partnered by Fabian Lurquin, the Frenchman secured a two-minute 45-second victory on the 162-km second stage from overnight leader Nasser Al Attiyah, to grab a slender three-second overall advantage over his chief rival in the World Rally-Raid Championship.
The result means the nine-time World Rally Champion still has control in the WRRC title race, in which he led Al Attiyah by 16 points heading into the third round in Mexico.
It was an outstanding day for the Prodrive Hunters, which set four of the five fastest times on a stage guarded by giant cacti, and it could have been better.
Guerlain Chicherit and Alex Winocq, last year’s Rallye du Maroc winners, finished the day holding third place overall, despite losing front wheel drive over the last 45 kilometres to be fifth on the stage.
Brazilian brothers Marcos and Cristian Baumgart powered the other two cars to the third and fourth fastest times, also securing top ten overall positions on only their second full competitive stage in the car.
Loeb benefited from a cautious approach early on as he plotted his path through the cacti, which leaves troublesome spikes in the spare tyres on side of the Hunter, forcing the BRX technicians to handle with care at the bivouac.
Tricky and dangerous route
“It was a good day,” he said at the finish. “No problem at all. I tried to take a good pace from the start, even though the first kilometres were really tricky, a bit dangerous even, so I was a little cautious.
“But after that it was a nice stage. Very narrow in some places and not easy to get through the cactus with a big car, but at the end we kept that pace right to the finish. We took the stage so now we open tomorrow, but for today it’s a great result.”
Chicherit, who had set a scorching early pace, commented: “We had a good start, the speed was right there and we were really pushing until we stopped at the neutralisation.
“When we restarted, we lost the front wheel drive, so we did the last 45 kms on rear wheels drive. There was nothing we could do but just try to not lose too much at the end.”