Bahrain Raid Xtreme’s Sébastien Loeb has escaped a time penalty following stage eight of the Dakar Rally, but the team has been handed a €10,000 [$11,321] fine.
Loeb, who finished second on the stage to Audi’s Mattias Ekström, was forced to replace a punctured tire in the opening miles of the Al Dawadimi to Wad Ad-Dawasir test before his replacement wheel came loose before the neutralization zone.
The loss of the replacement wheel meant that Loeb elected to back off his pace until the end, avoiding the risk of further punctures without the chance to fit a new wheel.
Post-stage, the stewards found that the team had been in breach of article 12.2.1.h of the FIA International Sporting Code and of article 51.4.1 of the Cross-Country Rally Sporting Regulations.
The regulation states that “under no circumstances should wheels/tires or parts be left inside or outside these [neutralization] zones” and that “at the stop control of Selective Section 8, the car #211 [Loeb] and the car #221 [Orlando Terranova] each arrived with one spare wheel only”.
The stewards decided to hand BRX a €10,000 fine, with €5,000 suspended for the duration of the 2022 FIA World Rally Raid Championship subject to further breaches.
The boss of Prodrive, which runs the BRX cars, David Richards told the stewards that the loss of the spare wheels had been unintentional and that there had been no performance gains.
The stewards’ decision said: “Mr David Richards explained that the loss of the spare wheels of both cars was certainly not intentional, and the driver found out that they lost the tires only in the neutralization zone.
“To him, it appears to be a case of force majeure and certainly the drivers did not gain any advantage from the loss of the tires.”
Video evidence [6:35 in the video below] surfaced of Loeb changing the puncture tire early on the stage, while photographs showed the loss of the spare tire upon resumption.
The stewards determined that in both cases the drivers were not at fault and declared that the fastening straps were “too weak”.
Loeb and co-driver Fabian Lurquin currently lie second in the overall classification, 37 minutes behind Toyota’s Nasser Al-Attiyah.
Despite the time loss on stage eight, Loeb managed to carve yet more time out of Al-Attiyah, reducing the margin by just over seven minutes in addition to the five minutes taken out of the Qatari with his second stage win of the rally on Sunday.
Al-Attiyah himself has also escaped a penalty in this year’s Dakar, having been handed a suspended disqualification from the event during the opening week after it was found that his data logger was not connected to his Toyota.