Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: After a fourth successive stage victory for Bahrain Raid Xtreme, Sebastien Loeb aims to extend his winning run as the Dakar Rally continues its dramatic passage through the Empty Quarter in Saudi Arabia on Friday.
Partnered by Fabian Lurquin in his BRX Prodrive Hunter, Loeb’s victory on Thursday’s 247km 11th stage, his fifth in this year’s event and 21st overall, moved him within reach of outright second place with three days remaining.
It was another day to underline the power and versatility of the Prodrive Hunters, with Guerlain Chicherit and Alex Winocq recovering from a difficult time to take second place, within 2mins 16 secs of the nine-time World Rally Champion.
Also recovering superbly after Wednesday’s broken suspension, Vaidotas Zala and Paulo Fiuza were on course for another podium finish in the third Prodrive Hunter before coming to a halt for 20 minutes before resuming.
Fifth fastest on Thursday, Nasser Al Attiyah has an overall lead of 1 hr 21 mins 4 secs in his Toyota from Lucas Moraes, but the Brazilian driver is under pressure in second place in his Toyota, with Loeb now just 9 mins 37 secs away.
The first half of the two-day Shaybah Empty Quarter Marathon stage delivered the cars to a remote bivouac set among huge dunes.
With assistance trucks and mechanics also excluded, there was a strong emphasis on protecting the cars, as there will be on Friday, and Loeb produced a masterclass in all-round driving through the majestic, but potentially hazardous, dunes of the Empty Quarter.
After securing another maximum points-haul with his latest stage victory, he has extended his lead over Al Attiyah in the World Rally-Raid Championship standings, with finishing positions in Dammam on Sunday to decide who leads after this year’s opening round.
Chicherit, who felt ill on Wednesday’s stage after a hard impact, again underlined his liking for the Prodrive Hunter, which he drove to a milestone first victory for the car in the Rallye Du Maroc three months ago.
“Seb drove brilliantly today to give us here at Bahrain Raid Xtreme another stage victory to now make six from eleven stages so far.
“That’s proof of the hard work that everyone here on the rally, and those back at Prodrive International, have done since the start of this project. We’re now within striking distance of second overall too.”
“With Guerlain making second place, it was another good day for BRX, although frustrating for Vaidotas after a strong start to the stage. However, there are sure to be some further twists and turns over the remaining three days before Sunday.”