Sebastien Loeb underlined his challenge for a first Dakar Rally triumph today as he delivered a historic stage victory for the Bahrain Raid Xtreme team in Saudi Arabia.
The nine-time World Rally Champion, partnered by Fabian Lurquin in one of the three BRX Prodrive Hunters, was fastest on the 338 kilometer stage from Hail to Al Artawiya by 3 minutes, 28 seconds, from overnight leader Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar.
The result saw Loeb cut Al-Attiyah’s advantage alongside Matthieu Baumel in a Toyota Hilux to 9 minutes, 16 seconds ahead of tomorrow’s 255 kilometer special from Al Artawiya to Al Qaysumah.
The first stage win for the Bahrain Raid Xtreme Prodrive Hunter on the Dakar rally came after 3 hours and 25 minutes of hard driving through the northern part of Saudi Arabia.
It is also the very first Dakar stage victory in a car running on sustainable fuel. The Hunter used Prodrive EcoPower, which is made from agricultural waste that reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 80 percent.
Loeb’s teammates Nani Roma and Alex Haro further confirmed the pace of the Hunter with a fifth place on the stage for the all-Spanish crew as competitors tackled the first big dunes of the 44th Dakar.
Orlando Terranova with Dani Oliveras in the third BRX car came home in 13th position to maintain their overall top ten place in the world’s largest and most demanding motor sports event, which covers 8,375 kilometers over two weeks.
“It was a real battle as Nasser was pushing very hard over the sand as he was opening the stage, and really fast,” said Loeb. “We pushed hard like we were on a WRC rally for 340 kilometers, so it was exciting and really tough, but we had a fantastic result at the end.
“Toward the end of the stage, Nasser and I were driving together through the dunes, but then there were a lot of stones,” he said. “I tried to lead so I could pick the line and try to avoid a puncture so we could finish the stage well, as yesterday I had two flats.
“It was not such a big question of navigation today as the line was really clear to see for Fabian. It’s a fantastic result for BRX and proof of the benefits of sustainable fuel for such long-distance events. After an enormous amount of work by so many people over so many months, we are proud to take this first stage win for the team.”
Gus Beteli, the BRX team principal, said: “A great day with the first stage win for BRX, thanks to Sebastien and Fabian having such great pace all the way through the difficult 338 kilometers.
“It’s quite a big task to beat Nasser in these types of dunes. We’re very happy to have had no major problems, which is the main thing, but we’re well aware that we still have 11 days to go.”