The fight for overall victory in the Dakar Rally lost some steam on Thursday’s 11th stage when Sébastien Loeb suffered a suspension failure — which has proven a weak point on the Prodrive Hunter this year, multiple similar failures having also knocked the Frenchman’s teammate, reigning champion Nasser Al-Attiyah, out of contention. Loeb lost more than an hour to race leader Carlos Sainz Sr. (pictured above) after being halted by a broken A-arm on the 420km/261-mile stage from Al-Alula to Yanbu.
Audi Sport driver Sainz finished third today behind the Overdrive Toyotas of Guerlain Chicherit — who scored his second straight stage win — and Guillaume de Mevius, and now enjoys a 1h27m lead over de Mevius and 1h35s over Loeb, who slipped to third overall ahead of tomorrow’s short sprint to the finish.
Unlike Adrien Van Beveren (read on), Sébastien Loeb dodged the dromedaries but another element of Dakar endurance appeared to end his win chances. Florent Gooden/DPPI/Red Bull Content Pool
“After we caught Seb, we drove carefully. It was very difficult with so many stones,” said Sainz. “Sometimes you just looked five meters in front of the car and drove slowly and see if you are lucky. Sometimes it is worth driving slowly, but sometimes even driving slowly you can get a puncture. There are still 170km to go. I know very well on this rally especially you need to cross the finish line and this is what we are going to try and do.”
In the motorcycle ranks, Ricky Brabec continues to lead into the final day but his margin over pursuer Ross Branch narrowed after the Hero Motorsports rider won today’s stage to make up 32s on the American, who finished second today on his Monster Energy Honda. Brabec now leads Branch by 10m22s and Honda teammate Adrien Van Beveren by 14m31s.
“It’s close. I opened the whole day by myself and I was expecting my teammate Nacho [Cornejo] to catch me, but unfortunately he had a little issue. Then I was waiting for my teammate Adrien, for him to grab some bonus time,” said Brabec. “I have a feeling that it’s going to be me, Adrien and Ross as the top three tomorrow.”
Like Sainz, though, Brabec is a Dakar veteran and knows how easily and in so many ways the biggest of leads can evaporate.
“There are so many bushes out there; these bushes have thorns that are very long, like cats’ claws,” Brabec said. “I got one on the first day and I had to see the medical team and get it cut out of my arm. The thorns reach out and grab you so easily. To not have a ripped jersey at the end of the Dakar is difficult — you can’t miss the bushes.”
Van Beveren would have been closer but for an even more classic Dakar delay during his run to third today, 3m17s back.
“There was a herd of a dozen dromedaries right in the middle of the tracks. It’s not unusual to see them, they are desert animals after all,” related the Frenchman. “It was one of the very quick main tracks, just after refueling. When I approached them they moved away to the left, but just as I was accelerating to pass them to the right, one of them had a change of mind and went back to the right-hand side of the tracks. It was too late and I was going too fast. I tried to avoid it but there was a big rock at the edge of the track and I hit it. I don’t know if I hit the dromedary, but there weren’t any there when I picked myself back up. I couldn’t avoid it and went over the handlebars at speed. I thought to myself, ‘This is going to hurt…’
“I think I landed on my head and cartwheeled over. I was groggy afterwards, but the airbag did a good job protecting me. I picked up my bike, which was a bit damaged, but I managed to finish.”