AGADIR: Sebastien Loeb powered his way to a vital stage victory for Bahrain Raid Xtreme to take the lead in the Rallye du Maroc, as the Prodrive Hunters dominated proceedings in the Western Sahara.
The nine-time World Rally champion won the 315 km competitive section from Agadir to Tan-Tan on Monday by 10 minutes 15 seconds from BRX teammate Orly Terranova, with Guerlain Chicherit in another Hunter completing the top three on a dramatic day in Morocco.
The result lifted Loeb from seventh overnight into an outright lead by eight seconds from Terranova, with Chicherit just 4:12 away in third place overall.
Most significantly, the French star finished the day with a massive 33:18 advantage over Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah, his fierce rival in the battle to become the first World Rally-Raid (W2RC) champion.
While the trio of Prodrive Hunters had all lost ground through a combination of mechanical, tire and navigational problems on the previous leg, this time it was Al-Attiyah and Saudi Arabia’s overnight leader Yazeed Al-Rajhi who found trouble.
Lying second at the end of the first desert stage, Al-Attiyah plunged out of contention after three punctures forced him to wait for assistance, while the same problem late on the stage dropped Al-Rajhi to fourth overall.
For the second day running, Chicherit impressed on his first competitive drive in the Hunter, setting the pace on the early part of the stage.
It was then Loeb’s turn to increase the power and take the stage lead before the halfway point, with Terranova also making good progress to take the Hunters to the top three positions, before the Argentine moved ahead of Chicherit.
Monday’s leg had begun with a 119-km journey from Tan-Tan to the start of the rally’s second desert stage, which included a variety of terrain up to a large plateau at the midway point, followed by a succession of dunes.
The stage finished at the new Laayoune bivouac, located on an imposing site overlooking a wadi, where the Rallye du Maroc set up camp for two nights. Tuesday's 299-km third desert stage follows, with another two set to take place before the finish in Agadir on Thursday.