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Loeb notches up sixth stage win in Dakar Rally

SHAYBAH, Saudi Arabia: Sebastien Loeb streaked to victory in the 12th stage of the Dakar Rally on Friday, the French BRX driver's fifth stage win in a row and his sixth of this edition.

The victory saw the nine-time former World Rally champion move into second in the overall standings behind leader and defending champion Nasser al Attiyah.

Loeb, whose five consecutive stage wins equalled the record set by Ari Vatanen in 1989, finished 3min 19sec ahead of Sweden's Mattias Ekstrom, in the last of the three Audi hybrids left in the race.

"It was a perfect day: no mistakes, no stalling, no about turns," said Loeb, adding that his goals had been changed by the forced absences of podium hopes Carlos Sainz, Stephane Peterhansel and Yazeed al Rahji.

"We drove well and the car worked perfectly. Second place is our goal, that's why we're pushing," added the driver whose title hopes were dented with a nightmare first week beset by punctures and rolling his car.

Qatar's Al Attiyah (Toyota) retained the overall lead, finishing third in the stage, 3:31 adrift of Loeb, but 1hr 27 min ahead of the Frenchman in the general standings.

"It's good to finish the marathon stage and bring the car back in good condition," said Al Attiyah, who also previously won the Dakar in 2011, 2015 and 2019.

"If we finish in the top five each day, that's okay for me, we have a big enough lead. I'm happy with our day and I hope we can continue like this."

Chile's Jose Ignacio Cornejo, on a Honda, won the motorbike section, finishing 49sec ahead of Daniel Sanders (GasGas), with another Australian, two-time winner Toby Price (KTM), in third (1:58).

The result was enough for Price to leapfrog American Skyler Howes (Husqvarna) into first place in the overall standings, 0.28sec ahead, with Kevin Benavides at 2:40.

There remain just two stages of the 45th edition of the Dakar Rally, which kicked off on December 31 and ends in the eastern city of Dammam on Sunday.

"I was just trying to keep a good smooth consistent pace and now it's just two days to go, so there's not long," said Price.

"Trying to have a strategy for the race at this point in time is completely out of the window. I've just got to stay on two wheels and stay healthy.

"Tomorrow, I'll try and push really hard, because on the last day it's a reverse grid. We need to try and see if we can make some really good time tomorrow, but then again you don't want to push too crazily and risk an injury or being out of the race completely this close to the finishing line."

Howes admitted it had not been his best stage.

"I didn't really make it up a couple of the dunes, which was really frustrating," the American said.

"We've still got a couple of more days left, so we'll keep pushing. It is a bit frustrating when you don't really nail it on the days, but that's how the Dakar works.

"There are so many days that you have to be on it and I feel like today I was a little bit off the pace. It is what it is and we'll keep pushing." -- AFP

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