Bahrain Raid Xtreme’s Sébastien Loeb kicked off the second week of the 2023 Dakar Rally with another stage victory as Carlos Sainz rolled his Audi early on stage nine.
Following the rest day in Riyadh on Monday, the crews set off from the Saudi capital towards Haradh for a 359km special stage, run largely on soil roads.
But it was in the early dune section where Sainz came unstuck, crashing his RS Q e-tron E2 for the second time on the event.
The three-time winner had initially called it a day after reportedly complaining of right torso pain, boarding the medical helicopter to take him to the nearby hospital for checks.
But Sainz had a change of heart and requested the helicopter take him back to his car in order to complete the stage after the assistance truck arrived.
The rest of the stage was largely a Prodrive Hunter T1+ domination, as Loeb powered to his third stage victory of the 45th edition – despite losing around seven minutes after getting lost – and with it, onto the overall podium after Toyota’s Henk Lategan suffered a broken damper.
“It was quite a good stage,” said Loeb. “We were a bit lost in some places, with some very complicated waypoints, the lines of the bikes were wrong so we had to turn around and search for them.
“We lost maybe five or seven minutes but it was a good stage, we could have lost a lot more.”
Vaidotas Zala was second quickest for Teltonika Racing, while GCK Motorsport’s Guerlain Chicherit made it a Hunter T1+ sweep of the top three positions.
After making a ‘calculation’ during the opening week, Loeb and navigator Fabian Lurquin began the second half of the Dakar with the aim of making it onto the overall podium and they started in fine fashion by topping the times at the opening waypoint.
Zala then moved to the front of the order at the third waypoint, gapping Loeb by 20s before slipping back behind the BRX by over a minute as Loeb began to stretch his legs.
That gap only got bigger as the stage wore on, with Loeb extending his lead to over three minutes as Chicherit got the better of Audi’s Mattias Ekström in the battle for the third quickest time.
Ekström’s fourth quickest time comes as a real shot in the arm for Audi, which has endured an incredibly difficult Dakar so far.
None of the three cars are in contention for the overall victory following a plethora of incidents and reliability issues during the opening week.
The Swede, partnered by Emil Bergkvist, was 7m21s down on Loeb’s best time and around two minutes clear of the Rebellion Racing Toyota Hilux of Romain Dumas and Max Delfino.
Giniel de Villiers and Dennis Murphy were seventh quickest in the highest-placed factory Toyota, three seconds ahead of Al-Attiyah.
In the overall classification, Al-Attiyah remains comfortably in front of Moraes, who dropped 12 minutes in the stage, while Loeb is up to third at the expense of Lategan who shipped a whopping 53m45s after his earlier issues.
De Villiers is fifth overall ahead of Dumas, while Martin Prokop and Viktor Chytka are now seventh in their Orlen Benzima Team Ford.
Brian Baragwanath was 11th fastest on the stage and consolidated eighth place for Century Factory Racing Team, while Wei Han is ninth, 20 minutes ahead of Juan Cruz Yacopini.
Stage 9 (Riyadh-Haradh) Results
1 Sébastien Loeb/Fabian Lurquin (Bahrain Raid Xtreme) 3h05m14s
2 Vaidotas Zala/Paulo Fiuza (Teltonika Racing) +3m07s
3 Guerlain Chicherit/Alex Winocq (GCK Motorsport) +4m18s
4 Mattias Ekström/Emil Bergkvist (Team Audi Sport) +7m21s
5 Romain Dumas/Max Delfino (Rebellion Racing) +9m48s
6 Kuba Przygónski/Armand Monleon (X-raid Mini JCW) +10m33s
7 Giniel de Villiers/Dennis Murphy (Toyota Gazoo Racing) +11m05s
8 Nasser Al-Attiyah/Mathieu Baumel (Toyota Gazoo Racing) +11m08s
9 Sebastian Halpern/Bernardo Graue (X-raid Mini JCW) +12m18s
10 Lucas Moraes/Timo Gottschalk (Overdrive Racing) +12m43s
Overall Standings after Stage 9
1 Al-Attiyah/Baumel (Toyota Gazoo Racing) 34h19m20s
2 Moraes/Gottschalk (Overdrive Racing) +1h21m57s
3 Loeb/Lurquin (Bahrain Raid Xtreme) +1h43m08s
4 Henk Lategan/Brett Cummings (Toyota Gazoo Racing) +1h46m23s
5 De Villiers/Murphy (Toyota Gazoo Racing) +2h04m17s
6 Dumas/Delfino (Rebellion Racing) +2h25m51s
7 Martin Prokop/Viktor Chytka (Orlen Benzima Team) +2h45m36s
8 Brian Baragwanath/Leonard Cremer (Century Factory Racing Team) +2h48m06s
9 Wei Han/Ma Li (Hanwei Motorsport Team) +3h32m15s
10 Juan Cruz Yacopini/Dani Oliveras Carreras (Overdrive Racing) +3h52m52s
Goczał trims Baciuška’s lead in SSV, Zille fastest in T3
In the T4 Modified SSV class, Energyland Rally Team’s Eryk Goczał claimed his third stage win of the Dakar, taking 46s out of overall leader Rokas Baciuška.
The latter finished second on the 359km test and retains a relatively healthy advantage of 5m02s heading into the Empty Quarter.
Having struggled on the final stage before the rest day after suffering two punctures, Baciuška was keen to rebuild his margin out in front, but got off to a tricky start by dropping two minutes before the first waypoint.
Baciuška then started to make ground and eventually clawed back almost all the time before the finish.
Former biker Xaiver de Soultrait put in a strong drive to set the sixth quickest time at the end, having been consistently inside the top five for the first half of the special.
In the T3 Lightweight Prototype category, the stage was closely contested as South Racing’s David Zille edged out overall leader Guillaume de Mevius by just two seconds.
Red Bull Off-Road Junior’s Mitch Guthrie Jr was just 10s further back in third, but team-mate Austin Jones dropped over nine minutes.
De Mevius therefore strengthens his advantage at the top of the overall standings over Jones to 12m43s, with Seth Quintero maintaining third.
One of the standout performers in the T3 class on stage nine was Saudi driver Dania Akeel. The past FIA T3 World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas champion briefly led the way at the 123km marker before dropping to second behind Guthrie Jr.
Akeel is currently 30th in the overall standings.