Hermosillo, Mexico: World Rally Raid Championship leader Sebastien Loeb passed a difficult test to give Bahrain Raid Xtreme a stage podium finish as Nasser Al Attiyah took the early lead in the Sonora Rally in Mexico.
Battling against the odds after opening the road on the 170km first stage, Loeb and Fabian Lurquin in the BRX Prodrive Hunter set the third fastest time and grabbed valuable championship points in the process to protect their overall advantage.
Trailing the nine-time World Rally Champion by 16 points at the start in Hermosillo, Al Attiyah took the stage to lead by 27 seconds overall from Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al Rajhi in another Toyota.
Guerlain Chicherit and Alex Winocq produced a brilliant run in their Prodrive Hunter to be within 49 seconds of the pace, before falling to fifth because of a three-minute penalty for speeding in a restricted section.
After setting off first on the stage, Loeb faced the toughest passage through overhanging branches, gates, dust and narrow tracks, and such was his pace that cactus spikes stuck into his tyres as he treaded his way through.
The BRX Prodrive Hunter car came out of the test missing front wheel arches that had been engineered to break off in extreme circumstances, and in the long run save the larger ‘clam shell’ bonnet.
“Opening the road, we knew that it was not going to be the easiest as there was a lot of very narrow roads and that meant we had to cut the bushes back with the side of the car,” said Loeb, who is 2 mins 42 secs off the lead.
“That meant we lost a little bit of time, but overall to be third on the stage is fine. This is a new adventure for us all so to have no trouble is great. We’ll see tomorrow how we can continue that.”
Chicherit completed the stage to say: “I was happy with the car, but it was not easy to be early on the stage, especially for Sébastien. I was trying to follow his tracks off the ground but then there was a lot of dust towards the end of the stage.
“We made two small navigation mistakes which were my fault, however we’ve good speed, I’m in the rhythm and I’ve got good confidence in the car. That means we’re in a good position for tomorrow so let’s see what we can get.”
Two other Prodrive Hunter crews showed up well on their WRRC debuts, with Brazil’s Marcos Baumgart and Kleber Cincea settling into eighth spot, one ahead of Cristian Baumgart and Alberto Andreotti.