Dubai: Sebastien Loeb underlined his challenge for a first Dakar Rally triumph yesterday as he delivered an historic stage victory for the Bahrain Raid Xtreme (BRX) team in Saudi Arabia.
The nine-times World Rally Champion, partnered by Fabian Lurquin in one of the three BRX Prodrive Hunters, was fastest on the 338-km stage from Hail to Al Artawiya by 3 mins 28secs from overnight leader Nasser Al Attiyah.
The result saw Loeb cut Al Attiyah’s advantage alongside Matthieu Baumel in a Toyota Hilux to 9 mins 16 secs ahead of tomorrow’s 255-km 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 by a car using sustainable fuel, as the Hunter runs on Prodrive EcoPower made from agricultural waste that reduces CO2 emissions by 80%.
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 motorsport event, which covers 8,375 km over two weeks.
Loeb completed the stage to say: “It was a real battle as Nasser was pushing very hard over the sand as he was opening the stage and really fast. We pushed hard like we were on a WRC rally for 340km, so it was exciting and really tough, but we have a fantastic result at the end.
“Towards the end of the stage, Nasser and I were driving together through the dunes, but then there were a lot of stones. 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 with for the team.”
Gus Beteli, the BRX team principal said: “A great day with the first stage win for BRX thanks to Seb and Fabian having such great pace all the way through the difficult 338 kms
“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 we still have 11 days to go.”