Sébastien Loeb took his first Dakar Rally stage win since 2019, and the first for the Prodrive-run Bahrain Raid Xtreme team, with a commanding performance on day two.
The nine-time World Rally Rally Champion, whose best finish on the rally raid was second in a factory Peugeot in 2017, beat Toyota’s Nasser Al-Attiyah to reduce the Qatari’s margin at the head of the field to 9m16s.
Originally planned as the first leg of the Marathon Stage – where no outside mechanical assistance is permitted and competitors are required to sleep overnight at the bivouac – the second stage of the 44th edition ended up bypassing the Al Artawiyah bivouac, which was flooded following heavy rainstorms on Sunday, and instead finished at the planned third stage bivouac of Al Qaisumah.
The timed section of the stage unaffected, the crews had to overcome a healthy mixture of fast sandy tracks and sinuous dune sections throughout, while precise navigation was again a crucial element.
Al-Attiyah was the first to tackle the 210-mile test, with Loeb second on the road. With the current leader essentially having to make tracks for those behind, it was Loeb who took the early lead through the opening pair of waypoints.
His lead was nearly 30 seconds after 37.28 miles, which soon extended to over a minute at the halfway marker of the stage. Loeb then caught Al-Attiyah, electing to follow the Toyota’s tracks before overtaking as the stage entered a rocky section towards the end.
“It was a real match, Nasser was pushing very hard,” said Loeb. “He was opening the road for the cars but still he was really fast, we had to push like in WRC for almost 340 km. It was exciting but it was a really tough fast rhythm.
“At the end I caught him, so I was able to follow him through the dunes. It’s a bit easier when you are just behind a car and right at the end of the stage there were a lot of stones. I overtook him to avoid having a puncture – yesterday I had two, so it was important to finish the stage well.”
From there, Loeb never looked back and duly increased his margin to 3m28s by the finish to claim his 15th Dakar stage win, as Al-Attiyah (pictured below) consolidated his overall advantage.
After a miserable opening day of the Dakar on Sunday, Audi enjoyed a far more promising day on the run to Al Qaisumah as all three RS Q e-trons showed impressive pace throughout the stage.
The quickest of the trio was three-time Dakar winner Carlos Sainz – who lost more than two hours on stage one through severe navigational issues and a puncture – setting the third-best time, albeit going 5m52s slower than Al-Attiyah.
Having seen his chances of a 15th victory disappear with a broken rear axle on day one, Stéphane Peterhansel was fourth, while Mattias Ekström, one of the stars of SS1, was a solid ninth.
It was a better day for several crews who struggled on the opening stage, with Al-Attiyah’s Toyota team-mate Henk Lategan putting in the seventh-fastest time. The triple South African Cross-Country Champion lost a wheel during SS1 after an initial puncture due in part to start the stage with lower tire pressures.
Bahrain Raid Xtreme duo Nani Roma and Orlando Terranova also enjoyed better fortunes on the run to Al Qaisumah, with Roma setting the fifth-best time and Terranova 11th, despite the latter losing three minutes on the second half of the stage.
Overdrive Racing’s Yazeed Al Rajhi was sixth quickest after an entertaining back-and-forth battle with Roma, who eventually escaped and briefly leaped ahead of Peterhansel in the closing splits.
Peterhansel and Roma had been separated by just one second at the penultimate waypoint, but the 14-time Dakar winner edged back ahead by the finish to the tune of six seconds.
Giniel de Villiers launched a superb fightback following a poor opening split to finish eighth quickest on the stage. The 2009 winner had dropped over two minutes after 24.8 miles but progressively increased his pace to finish ahead of Ekström, with the Overdrive Toyota of Bernhard Ten Brinke completing the top 10.
In the overall standings, Lucio Alvarez has now moved up to third, 40 minutes behind leader Al-Attiyah, with de Villiers fourth and just under a minute adrift of the Overdrive Hilux. Vladimir Vasilyev is fifth in the VRT Team BMW X3, while Martin Prokop has dropped three places to sixth in his Orlen Team Ford Raptor RS Cross-Country.
The best of the X-raid Mini JCWs is Sebastian Halpern in seventh, with team-mate Kuba Przygónski is ninth behind the Overdrive Toyota of Al Rajhi.
The Audis of Ekström and Sainz are well outside the top 15, with the former 1h55m52s behind Al-Attiyah and Sainz a full 2h30m32s adrift of the lead.
Stage 2 (Ha’il – Al Qaisumah) result
1 Sébastien Loeb/Fabian Lurquin (Bahrain Raid Xtreme) 3h25m00s
2 Nasser Al-Attiyah/Mathieu Baumel (Toyota Gazoo Racing) +3m28s
3 Carlos Sainz/Lucas Cruz (Audi) +5m52s
4 Stéphane Peterhansel/Edouard Boulanger (Audi) +7m56s
5 Nani Roma/Alex Haro Bravo (Bahrain Raid Xtreme) +8m02s
6 Yazeed Al Rajhi/Michael Orr (Overdrive Toyota) +8m41s
7 Henk Lategan/Brett Cummings (Toyota Gazoo Racing) +9m44s
8 Giniel de Villiers/Dennis Murphy (Toyota Gazoo Racing) +11m17s
9 Mattias Ekström/Emil Bergkvist (Audi) +13m30s
10 Bernhard Ten Brinke/Sébastien Delaunay (Overdrive Racing) +15m36s
1 Al-Attiyah/Baumel (Toyota) 6h59m21s
2 Loeb/Lurquin (Bahrain Raid Xtreme) +9m16s
3 Lucio Alvarez/Armand Monleon (Overdrive Toyota) +40m53s
4 de Villiers/Murphy (Toyota Gazoo Racing) +41m22s
5 Vladimir Vasilyev/Oleg Uperenko (VRT Team BMW) +43m39s
6 Martin Prokop/Viktor Chytka (Orlen Team Ford) +44m53s
7 Sebastian Halpern/Bernardo Graue (X-raid Mini JCW) +47m17s
8 Al Rajhi/ Orr (Overdrive Toyota) +48m53s
9 Kuba Przygónski/Timo Gottschalk (X-raid Mini JCW) +59m21s
10 Orlando Terranova/Dani Oliveras Carreras (Bahrain Raid Xtreme) +1h05m03s
Lopez Contardo heads T3 as Quintero hits trouble
“Chaleco” Lopez Contardo has moved into the lead of the T3 Lightweight Prototype class after Red Bull Off-Road Junior USA’s Seth Quintero ground to a halt in the closing section of the stage.
Quintero, who won the previous two stages, had been the quickest throughout the third test before encountering mechanical issues after the 186-mile marker. The American was unable to repair his OT3 and was forced to wait for his assistance truck.
Double event winner Lopez Contardo therefore holds the overall lead, with EKS/South Racing team-mate Sebastian Eriksson 7m22s behind in second.
It was a disappointing stage for Red Bull as Cristina Gutierréz, who had only been 1m37s adrift of Quintero at the 73-mile point, dropped over 15 minutes.
Team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen also hit strife after a strong opening split, losing seven minutes by the second waypoint following an accident.
In the SSVs, Austin Jones claimed the overall lead by finishing second to Cobant Energylandia’s Michał Goczał who won his second stage in a row.
Goczał was awarded the fastest time on the stage, despite stopping for 4m47s as he assisted the stricken Mikkelsen. Having initially come home fifth at the end, the Pole had the added time deducted by the event organizers, handing him the quickest time, 1m21s ahead of Jones.
Jones was engaged in a ding-dong scrap throughout the day with South Racing stablemate Rodrigo Luppi de Oliveira, with just 24 seconds splitting them by the end of the stage.
There was even more drama for victory contender Aron Domzala, who lost the best part of 40 minutes in the final section. Jones therefore leads the overall standings by 1m52s from Goczał with de Oliveira a further 36s adrift.
Occasional World Rallycross Championship driver Rokas Bacuiska set the fourth-quickest time in his South Racing Can-Am, dropping just 3m47s to Jones.