HOFUF, Saudi Arabia: French driver Sebastien Loeb won a record sixth successive stage in the Dakar Rally on Saturday although barring a disaster Qatar’s Nasser al Attiyah looks set for a fifth title.
Loeb, a record nine-time world rally champion, won the 13th and penultimate stage, a 154 kilometres special from Shaybah to Al Hofuf, to break Finnish driver Ari Vatanen’s mark of five consecutive victories in 1989.
The 48-year-old Prodrive star is in second spot overall — the same position as he filled last year — 1 hour and 21 minutes behind Al Attiyah.
“It’s great, even though the record was not necessarily my goal,” said Loeb.
“I especially wanted to cement my second place.
“The gap was small and I eased into my pace from the start of the dunes, so I wasn’t going to change everything.
“I feel good on sand, I can set a strong pace, I’m confident, I can drive aggressively while watching out for broken dunes. It’s cool.”
In contrast to Loeb setting the Saudi dunes ablaze, Al Attiyah has settled for a safety first strategy having established a commanding lead going into the final week of competition.
The 52-year-old lost just 5min 38sec to Loeb in Saturday’s stage.
“What is really important to me is winning the Dakar,” said Al Attiyah. “The race was great for us, we just have to bring the title home now.”
Al Attiyah’s Toyota team-mate, Brazilian Lucas Moraes, fills out the podium. He holds a comfortable advantage of over an hour from another Toyota driver South African Giniel de Villiers.
NEED TO PUSH
The car crown may appear done and dusted but it is far from the case in the motorbike category.
Australia’s two-time motorbike champion Toby Price holds a wafer thin advantage following closest rival Kevin Benavides’s victory in Saturday’s stage.
The 35-year-old KTM rider holds a lead of just 12 seconds over the Argentinian.
Price maintained first spot despite a fall and a navigation error in the stage.
“I made one little mistake around 130,” he said.
“We went too far right and I took a fall while looking at the top of a dune.
“At this stage here, you need to push to keep the lead.
“I’m happy, I’ve put a 100 per cent in every day.”
American Skyler Howes lies in third spot 1min 31secs adrift of 2016 and 2019 champion Price.
Benavides, who won the title in 2021, was awarded the stage win after having more than 23 minutes restored to him.
This was the time he took to aid a stricken rival Matthias Walkner at the outset of the stage.
The late revision dashed the cup of victory from South African amateur and debutant Michael Docherty, who had been hoisted to the top of the stage standings after Benavides’s younger brother Luciano was penalised a minute for speeding.
Howes’s compatriot Mason Klein’s rollercoaster race — mixing impressive performances with several tumbles — came to a premature end.
The KTM rider was unable to start the stage due to medical reasons according to race organisers Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO).
Sunday’s final stage is a 417-km run — including a 136-km special — to Dammam bringing to a close two weeks of combat conducted over 8,000 km. — AFP