Sébastien Loeb continued his comeback charge in the 46th Dakar Rally by winning today’s ninth stage, covering 417km/259 miles from Ha’il to Al-lula. With his 27th career Dakar stage triumph, the Frenchman regained more than four minutes on overall leader Carlos Sainz Sr., although the Spaniard still leads by 20m33ss ahead of his French rival.
“We had two punctures in the middle of the stage, so at the end I had to be a bit careful and not have a third one,” Loeb said. “The gap is still big, but we still have three stages to go. So, we’ll see and we’ll continue to push for the next three days.”
Sainz, who was escorted by his Audi teammates who have dropped out of contention, was pleased despite finishing 4m14s behind Loeb’s Prodrive Hunter in second.
“We were in first, second and fourth this morning. I waited for Carlos for six minutes at the start to escort him throughout the special, always 30 seconds behind, just in case,” related Stephane Peterhansel, who wound up sixth on the stage with his Audi RS Q e-tron. “It wasn’t easy for him because as long as there were cars in front, they were laying down tracks, but for the last 200km he opened on his own.
“You could see that he was hesitating a few times, which isn’t too bad a thing when navigating, but it still wasn’t an easy stage. You’d think that with our careers and our years of experience the stress would diminish, but no. I remember in 2021 when we won, we were stressed from start to finish because we were afraid of making a mistake and losing the victory. Carlos is in a good position. But Sébastien is capable of recovering 10 minutes a day, or even more if he goes to the limit. So, I can understand why Carlos is stressed. Having 20-25 minutes is good, but if you have a technical problem, you lose them very quickly.”
Lucas Moraes seemed likely to grab third place today, but the Brazilian lost time over the last few kilometers and finished more than 11 minutes behind the winner with his Toyota. He still occupies third place in the general rankings, but is more than an hour and 12 minutes behind Sainz. Century Racing’s Mathieu Serradori finished third, 4m43s behind Loeb.
Adrien Van Beveren took his second stage win of this edition of the Dakar, 32s ahead of Monster Energy Honda teammate Ricky Brabec with Pablo Quintanilla in third, 4m19s behind, giving Honda a 1-2-3. Ross Branch completed the stage in fifth and now trails overall leader Brabec by 7m09s, while Van Beveren has moved above Honda’s Nacho Cornejo to third overall. 11m26 behind his American teammate.