Bahrain Raid Xtreme (BRX) drivers Sebastien Loeb and Nani Roma displayed their car’s speed in the open desert despite punctures and navigational difficulties during the third stage of the Dakar Rally 2021 yesterday.
Stage three took BRX further into the Saudi Arabian desert, exploring the kingdom’s ‘empty quarter’. Leaving Wadi Ad Dawasir on a 630km loop, with 227km of road and 403km of special stage driving, Loeb and Roma faced vast expanses of open desert and rolling dunes.
Loeb, in the #305 Hunter, resumed his competitive driving for stage three, overcoming an early puncture to show the car’s pace in the open sections, and keep himself in the top three for most of the stage. Two late punctures cost time, leading him to finish sixth, completing the stage in 03:30:53, +13:14 off the leader. After three stages, Loeb sits in sixth overall, with +45:49 to make up on the rally leader.
In the #311 Hunter, Spaniard Nani Roma set out into the desert hoping to add to the confidence he and co-driver Alex Winocq are building upon each day of the Dakar Rally.
Navigational difficulties cost the pair time across the stage though, finishing 16th for the day after completing the desert stage in 03:44:10, +26:31 off the leader. This puts Roma 11th overall, conceding +1:04:21 to the rally leader.
Commenting after stage three, Loeb said: “I think we had a good result with the stage; after a puncture at the beginning, we had a relatively clean run. We had good driving, good navigation, everything was perfect. Then around 300km and again in the last 100km we had two further punctures losing a few minutes and obviously after three punctures I had to be very cautious to the finish. So frustrating but overall a really good stage.”
Roma added: “The visibility and navigation today was a real challenge, but the car is performing so well, it’s amazing how strong the Hunter is. For that reason, Alex and I are happy. We are building every time we are in the car and learning every day. For me, I want to be fighting more at the front, so that is the aim, but the way the car is performing, I am happy.”
Bahrain Raid Xtreme team director David Richards said: “We are extremely happy that after three days, we have hardly had any technical issues with the cars, so that is very positive. However, we have had a lot of punctures, which has been frustrating, and the navigation has been particularly challenging, leading to lost time. But that is the same for everybody, so we just need to press on.”
Stage four of the Dakar Rally 2021 will take BRX from Wadi Ad-Dawasir to the kingdom’s capital Riyadh. The route is 813km in total (476km of road and 337km of special stage) and offers drivers a chance to really have some fun behind the wheel, with winding desert and dirt tracks.
Stephane Peterhansel retained his lead as Qatari Nasser Al Attiyah closed the gap to five minutes in the Saudi Arabian desert dunes and canyons.
Al Attiyah, a triple champion, took his third stage win after leading the way in Saturday’s prologue and then clawing back time on Monday after losing 12 minutes on Sunday.
That propelled the Toyota driver to second overall, with Peterhansel’s Mini buggy team mate and defending champion Carlos Sainz dropping to fourth after straying off route.
In the motorcycle category, Australian Toby Price took his second stage win of the event while American Skyler Howes took the overall lead.
Two times champion Price, who also won Sunday’s opening stage on his KTM but started the day 29th after struggling on Monday, beat Argentine rider Kevin Benavides by a minute and 16 seconds after the 403km loop around Wadi Ad-Dawasir.
Howes, who had been eighth overall overnight, finished fourth on his non-factory KTM to go 33 seconds clear of Benavides.
Price moved up to fourth, one minute and 52 seconds off the lead, with Britain’s 2017 winner Sam Sunderland fifth.
Overnight leader Joan Barreda dropped to eighth, the Spaniard more than nine minutes behind Howes after having to open the stage.