GULFWEEKLY: MECHANICAL issues, navigation skills and challenging driving conditions will not deter the Bahrain Raid Xtreme dream teams from conquering the Dakar Rally, writes Mai Al Khatib-Camille.
Nine-time World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb and two-time Dakar Rally winner Nani Roma have been enduring gruelling driving in the Saudi Arabian 12-stage extreme off-road race – taking on rocky tracks, vast open desert, tall camel grass and steep, uncompromising sand dunes.
The rally also tested the navigation skills of their co-drivers and both teams have been impressed by the Hunter vehicles’ capabilities.
Roma said, “So far, I think we have had a good rally. Each day Alex Winocq and I work better together, and we are really enjoying it.
“The stages are challenging, but that is Dakar and that is cross country rallying. Of course, the navigation has been difficult, and this is something we will try to work on for the second half of the Dakar. The Hunter has been amazing – it is the first time the car has competed in the desert and the performance is very good.”
The team had a rest day in Ha’il, which was stage six, before facing the first part of the marathon stage (stage seven) earlier in the week.
The marathon stage is a unique aspect of the Dakar Rally. Split over two stages on consecutive days, the drivers are without the safety net of their assistance teams, and any vehicle repairs or maintenance will have to be completed by the drivers and co-drivers themselves.
Leaving Ha’il, Loeb and Roma had 737km of driving; 284km of road and 453km of special stage, making their way to Sakaka.
The rest of the Bahrain Raid Xtreme team headed to Neom, where the drivers would reconvene ahead of stage eight.
Roma finished in Sakaka in 10th with a time of 04:44:52, +22:53 behind the leader. The Spaniard is currently 5th overall, +1:59:00 behind the leader.
Roma, in the #311 Hunter, said, “The stage was not easy in the beginning; the sand was super soft in areas, so the fuel consumption was high. There was some tricky navigation and a puncture to deal with. But things are positive, the car is in good shape, and we are ready for the mountain stage. Alex and I are going to work on the car and prepare for the next day.”
Meanwhile, Loeb bounced back after a challenging day during stage six, showing the skill that has made him so synonymous with rally driving.
However, 30km from the finish, a mechanical issue forced him and his co-driver Daniel Elena to stop for repairs, costing the pair time.
Arriving in Sakaka after more than six hours of driving, the #305 Hunter finished the day in 42nd, more than an hour behind the leader. This leaves Loeb in 41st, with an overall rally time of more than 40 hours, more than 13 hours behind the leader.
Loeb said, “It was another complicated day for us. We started with a good rhythm, but the start of the stage had some rough terrain, and we got a puncture and then damage to our jack. After that we were going well until the end of the stage, when we broke a wheelbearing. But we completed the first part of the marathon stage; we will work on the car and be ready to go again.”
The second half of the marathon stage takes the drivers from Sakaka to Neom, covering 709km, with 344km of road and 375km of special stage driving.
The rally will conclude on January 15.
*Today, the Bahrain Raid Xtreme teams will be taking on stage 10, driving from Neom to AlUla. In this stage, while the hilly areas are breath-taking, the sandy tracks will require a lot of navigating.
For details on the rally and the team, visit www.dakar.com and https://www.bahrainraidxtreme.com/