Sebastien Loeb will summon his vast experience and legendary fighting spirit to overcome a difficult day for Bahrain Raid Xtreme in the Dakar Rally as his biggest rival also suffered in Saudi Arabia.
Loeb and Fabian Lurquin in the BRX Prodrive Hunter were looking to build on their third place finish on the Prologue, but found the rally’s new first desert stage, a punishing 414km test from Alula to Al Henakiyah today, was as tough as had been predicted.
With Belgium’s Guillaume de Mevius in a Toyota Hilux taking the stage to open up a 1min 44secs rally lead from the Audi of Spain’s Carlos Sainz, Loeb finished the day in provisional 20th place, but unfazed with 12 demanding days remaining in which fortunes can alter dramatically.
The nine-time World Rally Champion wants to go one better than his second place finish in each of the last two editions of the Dakar behind Nasser Al Attiyah, the five-time winner who had an even more challenging time today in his Prodrive Hunter, reaching the finish in 22nd position.
With 11 more stages leading to the finish in Yanbu on January 19th, Loeb will be looking to produce more of his best performances at the wheel of the BRX Prodrive Hunter, which gave him a record six stage wins in a row last year, and seven overall.
Sebastien Loeb said: “That was not an easy stage but they did tell us that before the start. We had a puncture after 70kms but after that we knew the rest of the stage would be very hard for the tyres and the car, with big stones everywhere, so we took it a little bit easily.
“Then I broke the steering arm so we had to change that in the stage and that’s not so quick to swap over, so I think we lost 10 or 12 minutes. It was a long day that was not so interesting from the driving side but more a question of surviving, but in the end we did that.”
Over terrain never before seen in the Dakar, with a rocky route twisting around volcanoes towards the first bivouac near the town of Al Henakiyah, navigational difficulty and a high risk of punctures meant it was a stage always likely to cause problems.
As always, there will be no time to relax on the Dakar, with tomorrow sending the cars on another immensely demanding journey over a 463km stage to Al Duwadimi across dunes and rapid desert sections.