HAIL: Toyota’s Nasser Al-Attiyah on Thursday stretched his lead at the top of Dakar 2023 standings as Sebastien Loeb’s bid for a second successive stage win was frustrated by another late setback for Bahrain Raid Xtreme.
After victory 24 hours earlier in his BRX Prodrive Hunter, Loeb was locked in an epic battle with Qatari Al-Attiyah and fellow Frenchman Stephane Peterhansel on the 375 km fifth stage, as all three held the lead at various points, with just seconds separating them.
But with just 20 km remaining, Loeb and co-driver Fabian Lurquin came to a halt for 15 minutes with mechanical problems, and eventually finished ninth on the day.
Taking the stage in his Toyota by 1 minute, 57 seconds from the fast finishing Audi of Carlos Sainz, Al-Attiyah now leads by 22 minutes, 36 seconds overall from Peterhansel, who set today’s third fastest time in his Audi.
Guerlain Chicherit, stage winner on Tuesday with Alex Winocq in his Prodrive Hunter, produced a fine recovery from his loss of 90 minutes yesterday to clock the fifth best time.
Also bouncing back strongly after being sent back to the bivouac yesterday with suspension damper failure, Lithuanians Vaidotas Zala and Paulo Fiuza completed the top 10 on the day in their Prodrive Hunter.
For much of the day, Loeb was in the hunt to complete a BRX hat-trick of stage victories following his success 24 hours earlier, and the win by Chicherit.
Having recovered from a series of punctures and technical issues to climb from 54th to 14th position overall, the nine-time World Rally Champion was climbing the top 10 in his Prodrive Hunter before his late mishap left him in 11th.
Thursday’s action unfolded on a second successive stage looping around Hail, the focal point of all-terrain racing in Saudi, which presented a challenging route twisting through dunes and camel grass.
The drivers will now turn their attention to securing World Rally-Raid Championship points in Friday’s 467 km sixth stage from Hail To Al-Duwadimi.