Bahrain Raid Xtreme’s Sébastien Loeb has been handed a five-minute penalty for exceeding the speed limit during the fourth stage of the Dakar Rally, a decision the nine-time World Rally Champion has described as ‘incompetence’.
Loeb and co-driver Daniel Elena enjoyed their best day of the rally so far, putting in the fourth-fastest time on the 209-mile test from Wadi Ad-Dawasir to the Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh.
In what has been a challenging fifth Dakar start in six years – with a total of six punctures hampering his progress – Loeb had sat fourth overall after stage four, just behind defending winner Carlos Sainz.
A clearly angry Loeb took to his social media to express his frustration at being penalized by the rally officials.
“You have begun to know me a little for all these years and I very rarely ‘rant’,” Loeb said.
“But tonight, I need to share with you the incompetence of the stewards’ panel of an event as legendary as the Dakar Rally.
“We have just been penalized five minutes for exceeding speed in a controlled area.
“In all my participations, in all the stages and in all the speed control zones, I always respect this rule as best I can.
“On the sole condition that the GPS system, via an alarm, tells us when we enter these ‘invisible’ areas.
“Today, the alarm did not sound when entering said area. And so, I couldn’t slow in time.”
Loeb and Elena tried to explain to the stewards that the speeding infringement had stemmed from a problem with the GPS system, an issue which was even reportedly backed up by the suppliers of the technology.
“Despite our explanations but above all despite the confessions of the GPS system provider stating that there was an issue with the equipment in our car today, the jury of the marshals did not want to know anything.
“He decided, cowardly sitting behind his desk, with spilling his coffee as his only risk, when we risk our lives every day in the car, to hand us a penalty far more severe than what this GPS ‘bug’ gained us … about two to three seconds being generous.
“I am passionate about it but above all, I am a competitor. And today, if I am in a race like the Dakar, it is first and foremost to achieve what I am employed for: to achieve a result that meets the team’s ambitions and meets my ambitions. And for that, there is no room for incompetence, nor the incompetent.”
As a result of the penalty, Loeb and Elena have dropped to seventh in the overall classification, nearly an hour behind rally leaders Stéphane Peterhansel and Edouard Boulanger – themselves penalized one minute after stage four.
*Dakar organizers, the ASO, revealed on Thursday that Loeb had exceeded the speed limit by 47mph, doing 66mph in an 18mph controlled zone. Race director David Castera sympathised with Loeb, saying that had the Frenchman heard the GPS alarm he would no doubt have stopped in time, but reiterated that this wasn’t the case.