Sebastien Loeb aims to bounce back immediately from disappointment in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge to keep Bahrain Raid Xtreme on course to become the first winners of the new World Rally-Raid Championship.
Making his debut in the event, the nine-times World Rally Champion with co-driver Fabian Lurquin was completely out of luck on today’s 264-km first special stage cutting through demanding desert landscape on the fringe of the Empty Quarter.
Loeb damaged his Prodrive Hunter’s drivetrain, forcing him to continue his progress in the dunes in two-wheel drive, before he became trapped in soft sand, losing a huge amount of time.
After he and co-driver Lurquin carried out repairs to the Hunter, he recovered to complete the stage, although the setbacks meant he finished it 2h 23.05′ off Stephane Peterhansel’s fastest time on the day.
Loeb’s biggest rival in the race for the World Rally-Raid crown, Nasser Al Attiyah, had an even more painful day, damaging the front right suspension of his Toyota Hilux early on the stage to force his retirement for the day.
Loeb, lying a close second in the championship to the Qatari after the Dakar Rally, said on reaching the end of today’s leg: “It has been a bit complicated. We broke the shaft and then we were on two wheel drive, and then we broke a drive shaft and had to replace one from the rear, and then we broke it again.
“So we lost a second drive shaft from the rear. We tried to finish the race and not retire like him (Al Attiyah). The terrain is very technical. Really, really slow with big drops and soft sands. I will sleep tonight, the team will do the repairs and we will come stronger again tomorrow.”