Abu Dhabi: Sebastien Loeb put Bahrain Raid Xtreme on the path to recovery in the World Rally-Raid Championship today as arch-rival Nasser Al Attiyah extended his lead in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.
Loeb and Fabian Lurquin in their BRX Prodrive Hunter were on the verge of an early exit after mechanical problems prevented them from completing Monday’s special stage, and ended their hopes of a first win in the event.
BRX technicians worked through the night to fit a new engine to the Prodrive Hunter, and Loeb responded by collecting valuable championship points as he followed Al Attiyah’s Toyota home on today’s 365km stage, which looped around Qasr Al Sarab.
The nine-time World Rally Champion was second quickest on the day to the Qatari, whose second successive desert stage win gave him an overall lead of 18 mins 19 secs from Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al Rajhi in another Toyota.
With Martin Prokop taking his Ford Raptor into third spot, Denis Krotov in a Mini, Seth Quintero in a CAN-AM Maverick X3 and the Toyota of Argentinian Juan Yacopini completed the top six.
Loeb’s misfortune 24 hours earlier brought huge time penalties, and saw him start today’s stage in 11th position under W2RC regulations.
But the Frenchman quickly shrugged of the setback and powered his way past a succession of cars starting ahead of him, serving a reminder that he remains firmly in world title contention, with championship rounds to follow in Mexico, Argentina and Morocco.
“That was better,” said Loeb at the finish. “The first thing is to thank the team for their big effort last night to work on the car until the early hours.
“We reached the finish in second position today, so we’ve taken some precious points for the championship on a difficult stage, as there was a lot of heat in the car so that was not easy.
“There are new rules after Dakar that both digital road books need to validate all the waypoints, but one of them didn’t ‘click’ over on one GPS point and yet the other did, so that’s odd and also not our fault.
“The dunes are different from the Dakar too. It’s really difficult to read them as they are very technical and very short meaning the speed drops right down and that’s the hardest thing to do.”
Loeb, who recording a record-breaking stage victories in a row in the Dakar Rally after early bad luck, will be aiming for another charge over the next three days, with stages of 266km, 308km and 206km leading to the finish of the Desert Challenge in Abu Dhabi on Friday afternoon.