Sébastien Loeb became the first driver in Dakar Rally history to claim six consecutive stage wins, once again setting the pace as the bivouac reached Al-Hofuf.
Alongside navigator Fabian Lurquin, the Bahrain Raid Xtreme driver surpassed the previous record he jointly held with Ari Vatanen, having matched it on stage 12.
On top for the entire 153km journey from Sheybah, Loeb stormed to his seventh stage win of the 2023 edition, beating Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Nasser Al-Attiyah by 5m28s.
Mattias Ekström and Emil Bergkvist were third quickest for Audi, a further minute adrift, while third placed Lucas Moraes and Timo Gottschalk lost a heavy chunk of time in their Overdrive Racing Toyota.
Al-Attiyah and Baumel have all but secured the overall victory – which would be Al-Attiyah’s fifth in total – with second place on the stage. They hold a commanding 1h21m lead over Loeb with just the final, short journey to Dammam remaining tomorrow.
The penultimate stage of the 45th edition was the final chance to surf the iconic Saudi Arabian dunes and, true to form, Loeb and Lurquin started strongly from first on the road.
Loeb headed Al-Attiyah by 22s at the first waypoint after 34km and extended that margin to over a minute by the second as the latter continued to take things easy.
Audi’s Mattias Ekström and Emil Bergkvist were the closest challengers behind the leading two in third but was equal on time at the second waypoint with the sensational teenager Eryk Goczał.
The Energyland Rally Team Can-Am, which competes in the T4 Modified Side-by-Side category, was fourth quickest after 34km and tied third at the second, just 3m55s down on Loeb, the dunes doing their bit to negate the power advantage of the T1 cars.
Goczał slipped marginally back at the penultimate waypoint but still recorded a quite extraordinary fourth place at the finish, just over 30s ahead of Henk Lategan and Brett Cummings.
Goczał’s time was particularly significant in the overall battle for T4 honors as he finished over five minutes ahead of Rokas Baciuška’s Red Bull Can-Am Factory Team machine, reducing the deficit to the reigning T4 World Rally-Raid champion to just 3m24s ahead of the final stage.
Behind Lategan came Yazeed Al Rajhi and Dirk von Zitzewitz, with Kuba Przygónski and Armand Monleon in their X-raid Mini JCW Rally, 11m31s off the pace in seventh.
Moraes toiled to the eighth fastest time, dropping 12m07s but finishing ahead of Chicherit’s Hunter which ended up just under 13 minutes down on Loeb.
The overall situation ahead of Sunday’s last stage remains stable, with Moraes now 14 minutes behind Loeb, but maintaining his third place ahead of TGR’s Giniel de Villiers.
The 2009 winner De Villiers is eight minutes clear of Lategan and, barring any major mishap, will ensure four Toyota Hiluxes inside the top five come the end.
Martin Prokop and Viktor Chytka are sixth in their Orlen Benzina Team Ford Raptor, while Juan Cruz Yacopini has moved up to seventh in his Overdrive Toyota.
Wei Han is just 19s back in eighth, meaning a place swap could occur on the final stage, with Mathieu Serradori ninth after his Century Factory Racing Team CR6 stopped briefly on stage 13.
Sebastian Halpern and Bernardo Graue are 10th currently in their X-raid Mini, profiting from an apparent roll for the other Century CR6 of Brian Baragwanath.
Overall Standings after Stage 13
- Nasser Al-Attiyah/Mathieu Baumel (Toyota Gazoo Racing) 43h48m10s
- Sébastien Loeb/Fabian Lurquin (Bahrain Raid Xtreme) +1h21m42s
- Lucas Moraes/Timo Gottschalk (Overdrive Racing) +1h35m50s
- Giniel de Villiers/Dennis Murphy (Toyota Gazoo Racing) +2h30m44s
- Henk Lategan/Brett Cummings (Toyota Gazoo Racing) +2h38m20s
- Martin Prokop/Viktor Chytka (Orlen Benzima Team) +3h39m13s
- Juan Cruz Yacopini/Dani Oliveras Carreras (Overdrive Racing) 4h25m42s
- Wei Han/Ma Li (Hanwei Motorsport Team) +4h26m01s
- Mathieu Serradori/Loïc Minaudier (Century Factory Racing Team) +4h28m31s
- Sebastian Halpern/Bernardo Graue (X-Raid Mini JCW Team) +4h46m26s
Jones on the brink of T3 victory
American Austin Jones is just one stage away from a second successive Dakar victory after safely making it to Al-Hofuf.
His Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team USA team-mate Mitch Guthrie Jr topped the times to record his fifth stage win of the rally, beating X-raid Yamaha’s Ignacio Casale by 50s. The third Red Bull Can-Am of second-placed Seth Quintero was third on the stage, just seven seconds behind Casale.
With Guthrie Jr long out of contention for the overall victory due to mechanical problems before the rest day, Jones heads into the final day with a lead of 54m30s over Quintero.
Guillaume de Mevius, who had led the rally until he too struck reliability issues in the second week, remains third, 1h33ms back.
Between the Red Bull Can-Am Factory team-mate, there’s a change for fourth place as Cristina Gutiérrez Herrero’s strong second week continued by overtaking Francisco Chaleco López Contardo.
Should Jones take victory on Sunday, it will be back-to-back successes on the Dakar after prevailing in an epic final-stage shootout with Gerard Farres Guell last year to win the T4 class.
Among this year’s crop of T4 drivers, the battle is even more intense. Baciuška’s lead is 3m24s before the final stage, despite the Red Bull Can-Am Factory Team driver putting in a superb stage time of his own to finish inside the overall top 10.
Marek Goczał is still third, 23 minutes behind and ready to profit should anything happen to the leading duo.
Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli is a distant fourth in his South Racing Can-Am, 1h09ms down.
But the attention was rightfully on Eryk Goczał, who revealed post-stage that he had driven the bulk of the test with one hand after suffering an injury early on.
“After 30km we hit a big bump and I think I did something to my left hand, the steering flew out of my hands and cut me,” said a tearful Goczał. “It was the first time I drove a stage with one hand but I did everything I could.
“It was a difficult stage, but we enjoyed it and I fought with everything inside me. As a team, we gave it everything we had. The tears are a mix of joy and the pain in the car, but we must do something for tomorrow.”