Sebastien Loeb recorded a spectacular Dakar Rally stage win for Bahrain Raid Xtreme to keep alive his hopes of a first triumph in the event.
The nine-times World Rally Champion in the BRX Prodrive Hunter won the 402-km seventh stage from Riyadh to Al Dawadimi by a stunning 5 mins 26secs from Nasser Al Attiyah to reclaim second place overall.
The result reduced the Qatari’s outright lead to 44 mins 59 secs, and while the gap is still considerable, Loeb and Fabian Lurquin have served a reminder that the battle for victory could go all the way to Friday’s finish in Jeddah, which is five stages and 1,567 km away.
The French duo notched up the third BRX win in seven stages, and their second of the rally, on a day when team-mates Orlando Terranova and Dani Oliveras in another Prodrive Hunter set the 11th fastest time to rise again to sixth place in the standings.
Completing a rewarding day for BRX, Nani Roma and Alex Haro recorded the ninth best time on the stage as the 44th Dakar resumed following the rest day in Riyadh.
Loeb, whose car’s spare wheel hatch flew open on the stage, said: “Only half of the rally is done but we tried to push today even though we were a little unlucky towards the end of the stage with a problem when the car stopped. We were very slow at the end and could have gone even quicker.”
Roma finished the stage to say: “Not a bad day at all, but what was difficult was passing one of the buggies, as then he passed us back and kicked up a load of dust with stones, cutting corners, driving all over the road. So for us the navigation was not easy at all.
“However it’s brilliant that there has been another victory for the team with Sebastien and Fabian to make win number three, so that’s great to see in the eyes of everyone at BRX when we arrived at the bivouac.”
Terranova, who started first after winning the previous stage, said: “I think that it was the hardest day for opening the stage. The piste and the tracks were not visible with stones and a lot of changes of directions so in all I think we did a good job but we need to work on improving finding our way again when we make a mistake. That’s a challenge for us.”
Gus Beteli, the BRX Team Principal, said: “A great win for Seb and Fabian with another five minutes taken out of Nasser. It’s still a long way to go, but we keep trying every kilometre to take a little bit, so not a bad day at all after the rest day.”