Sebastien Loeb overcame a mechanical problem and penalty before the Dakar Rally resumed after its rest day and won his third stage of the race in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.
Loeb cut 11 minutes into Nasser Al-Attiyah’s lead and improved to third in the general rankings, but still was 1 hour, 43 minutes behind the Qatari.
Al-Attiyah was content to finish eighth and in one piece after a 359-kilometre stage nine between Riyadh east to Haradh. Navigation was complicated in the wadis and canyons at the start.
Two-time champion Carlos Sainz, out of the title running since a crash last Friday, crashed again just six kilometres in when he planted his jumping Audi front-first into the sand and flipped. Also reportedly OK was motorbike rider Joan Barreda, the stage four winner who fell at kilometre 16 and was airlifted to a Riyadh hospital.
Al-Attiyah increased his overall lead to 1 hour, 21 minutes over Brazilian rookie Lucas Moraes after mechanical trouble cost Toyota teammate Henk Lategan more than 30 minutes. The Dutchman dropped from second to fourth, three minutes behind Loeb.
An ignition problem caused Loeb’s late arrival at the pre-start control and he was penalised for more than two minutes. But the Frenchman was good enough to hold off Vaidotas Zala of Lithuania by a minute and Guerlain Chicherit by four minutes. Loeb estimated he lost five to seven minutes on navigation and it could have been worse.
Al-Attiyah, who has led since stage three, was happy to follow others’ tracks. He’s anticipating consolidating his lead as the race heads to the Empty Quarter in the Saudi southeast, which he knows well.
“We need to take it day by day like this without any problems,” Al-Attiyah said. “We have a big gap now and I hope to finish and to win this Dakar.”
Luciano Benavides became the first rider to win two stages in this race. And just like when the Argentine won stage six, his Husqvarna teammate Skyler Howes stayed the leader in the general rankings. They rode together.
“It was a demanding stage with lots of water,” Howes said. “It was super crazy. We were going through giant rivers in the middle of the desert.”
Benavides vied with Toby Price all day for the lead and prevailed against the two-time champion by one minute. Howes was third.
They benefited from an unplanned detour, around 123 kilometres before the refuel stop, by Ross Branch, Mason Klein, Pablo Quintanilla, Adrien van Beveren and Daniel Sanders, all of them stage winners. They never recovered and Klein’s day was notably bad. He fell at the start and lost his roadbook, and fell again near the finish.
Klein dropped from third overall, 13 seconds behind Howes, to sixth, more than 18 minutes back.
Price rose to second place, just three seconds behind Howes, and another former champion in Kevin Benavides — brother of Luciano — was five minutes back in third place.