Ha’il, Saudi Arabia: Sebastien Loeb’s bid for a second successive Dakar Rally stage win was frustrated by another late setback for Bahrain Raid Xtreme on Thursday as Nasser Al Attiyah stretched his overall lead in Saudi Arabia.
After a thrilling victory 24 hours earlier in his BRX Prodrive Hunter, Loeb was locked in an epic battle with Al Attiyah and Stephane Peterhansel on the 375km fifth stage, as all three held the lead at various points, with just seconds separating them.
But with just 20km remaining, Loeb and co-driver Fabian Lurquin came to a halt for 15 minutes with mechanical problems, and eventually finished ninth on the day, a meagre reward for their contribution to another classic Dakar episode.
Fastest time of the day
Taking the stage in his Toyota by 1 minute and 57 seconds from the fast finishing Audi of Carlos Sainz, Al Attiyah now leads by 22 minutes and 36 seconds overall from Peterhansel, who set today’s third fastest time in his Audi.
Guerlain Chicherit, stage winner on Tuesday with Alex Winocq in his Prodrive Hunter, produced a fine recovery from his loss of 90 minutes on Wednesday to clock the fifth best time.
Also bouncing back strongly after being sent back to the bivouac on Wednesday with suspension damper failure, Lithuanians Vaidotas Zala and Paulo Fiuza completed the top ten on the day in their Prodrive Hunter.
For much of the day, Loeb was in the hunt to complete a BRX hat-trick of stage victories following his success 24 hours earlier, and the win by Chicherit.
Having recovered superbly from a series of punctures and technical issues to climb from 54th to 14th position overall, the nine-time World Rally Champion was climbing the top ten in his Prodrive Hunter before his late mishap left him in 11th.
Not for the first time this week, Loeb will quickly put his disappointment behind him and return to the job of securing valuable World Rally-Raid Championship points in Friday’s 467km sixth stage from Ha’il To Al Duwadimi.
Loeb’s BRX teammate, Argentinian Orlando Terranova, withdrew overnight after being forced out of action yesterday when an old back injury flared up, sending him back to the bivouac for a medical check-up.
It was a major disappointment for Terranova, who finished fourth on last year’s Dakar and had set the third fastest time on Tuesday.
Thursday’s action unfolded on a second successive stage looping around Ha’il, the focal point of all-terrain racing in Saudi, which presented a challenging route twisting through dunes and camel grass.
Loeb said: “We had great speed today, genuine speed. In fact we were sure we up on the time after such a good run with the car. We started first and no one overtook us, but that stage was really rough, with a lot of camel grass meaning, we took some big hits.
“If you are the first car opening the stage you still have to find the line. It’s very different to follow bike tracks over car tracks. Indeed towards the end of the stage I reckoned there were only 30 bikes in front of me.
“Then after a crest on a broken dune we had our moment as on the left there was a strange ‘hole’ and we hit that on the way up and it tipped us on our side. It was only 20 kms from the end, so it would’ve been good to have got that hat-trick (of stage wins) for the Prodrive Hunter.”