Sébastien Loeb gave Bahrain Raid Xtreme its second stage victory in a row – and third of this year’s Dakar Rally – to cut Nasser Al-Attiyah’s overall lead to under 50 minutes as the event enters its second week.
Starting 23rd on the road following a navigational error on Friday’s sixth stage, Loeb made the most of his advantageous position to hit the front at the fourth waypoint.
From then, he and navigator Fabian Lurquin did not let up and came home more than five minutes clear of Al-Attiyah, whose overall lead remains untroubled at a fraction under 45 minutes.
Despite the gains on the clock, Loeb was left frustrated at the finish after encountering intermittant engine troubles which forced him to stop and restart in the closing section.
“We had a super stage until 50km from the finish, we had an engine problem,” Loeb said post-stage. “We ended up stopping, [the engine] restarted and then stopped again. We still finished with the fastest time so we can’t complain but we lost a lot [of time] at the end.”
For this stage, the crews embarked on a 435-mile journey – of which 253 miles were timed – west to Al Dawadimi on primarily sand and soil-based tracks but that featured asphalt sections for the first time in the rally, serving up a fast special for the crews after the official rest day in Riyadh.
As had been the case with several stages during the opening week, navigation was expected to prove more taxing due to a number of tracks being washed away following heavy rainstorms throughout the region.
This proved costly for those early in the road order with opener Orlando Terranova dropping nearly five minutes by the fourth waypoint, while Audi’s Mattias Ekström – second on the road – fared marginally better but still coughed up a quarter of an hour to stage-winner Loeb.
Just like it was on Friday, stage seven was highly competitive in the opening segments, with Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Henk Lategan leading the way at the first checkpoint by nine seconds from Sainz, and 19s from Loeb.
Sainz then nudged in front from Loeb by just two seconds but the nine-time WRC champion edged four seconds clear before both Sainz and Lategan dropped valuable time.
Lategan stopped to assist TGR team-mate Giniel de Villiers who hit trouble between the third and fourth waypoints after the oil pipe detached from the cooler, costing the latter fourth place in the overall classification.
Having lost over three minutes, Sainz was eventually overhauled by Al-Attiyah, who put in a strong second half of the stage alongside navigator Mathieu Baumel to end up just under five-and-a-half minutes adrift of Loeb to minimize the dent to his overall lead.
Sainz held onto third on the stage, 7m43s off the pace of Loeb and over two minutes in arrears of Al-Attiyah.
Sainz’s team-mate Stéphane Peterhansel had a clean stage and finished fourth on its classification, 9m40s behind Loeb, having leapfrogged the Overdrive Racing Toyota of Yazeed Al Rajhi and Michael Orr in the final section.
Ekström made it three Audis in the top 10 with the eighth-quickest time behind Al Rajhi’s Overdrive colleagues Bernhard Ten Brinke in sixth and Lucio Alvarez in seventh.
In the overall classification, Al-Attiyah’s lead has been shaved slightly to 44m59s while Loeb reclaimed the second place he lost to Al Rajhi on Friday and is now over eight minutes ahead of the Saudi Arabian driver.
Alvarez is back up to fourth after de Villiers’ time loss, ahead of X-raid Mini JCW’s Kuba Przygónski with Terranova sixth and Martin Prokop’s Orlen Team Ford Raptor RS seventh.
Stage 7 (Riyadh– Al Dawadimi) result
1 Sébastien Loeb/Fabian Lurquin (Bahrain Raid Xtreme) 3h09m32s
2 Nasser Al-Attiyah/Mathieu Baumel (Toyota Gazoo Racing) +5m26s
3 Carlos Sainz/Lucas Cruz (Audi) +7m43s
4 Stéphane Peterhansel/Edouard Boulanger (Audi) +9m40s
5 Yazeed Al Rajhi/Michael Orr (Overdrive Racing Toyota) +10m03s
6 Bernhard Ten Brinke/Sébastien Delaunay (Overdrive Racing Toyota) +12m54s
7 Lucio Alvarez/Armand Monleon (Overdrive Racing Toyota) +13m37s
8 Mattias Ekström/Emil Bergkvist (Audi) +14m42s
9 Nani Roma/Alex Haro Bravo (Bahrain Raid Xtreme) +15m50s
10 Vladimir Vasilyev/Oleg Uperenko (VRT Team) +18m05s
Overall standings after SS7
1 Al-Attiyah/Baumel (Toyota) 23h52m22s
2 Loeb/Lurquin (Bahrain Raid Xtreme) +44m59s
3 Al Rajhi/Orr (Overdrive Toyota) +53m31s
4 Alvarez/Monleon (Overdrive Toyota) +1h15m09s
5 Kuba Przygónski/Timo Gottschalk (X-raid Mini JCW) +1h30m04s
6 Orlando Terranova/Dani Oliveras Carreras (Bahrain Raid Xtreme) +1h36m55s
7 Vasilyev/Uperenko (VRT Team BMW) +1h39m47s
8 Martin Prokop/Viktor Chytka (Ford Raptor RS) +1h44m48s
9 Sebastian Halpern/Bernardo Graue (X-raid Mini JCW) +1h58m24s
10 Vaidotas Zala/Paulo Fiuza (X-raid Mini JCW Rally) +2h28m51s
Quintero and Gutierréz go toe-to-toe as SSV order shaken up
It was a two-horse race for stage honors in the T3 Lightweight Prototype class as Red Bull Off-Road Team duo Seth Quintero and Cristina Gutierréz took their battle right down to the last waypoint, with Quintero taking his seventh stage success of the Dakar.
The American had led from the start, having won every stage barring SS2 where he lost 16 hours in total, and increased his lead over Gutierréz to four minutes before the fifth waypoint.
He then shipped over six minutes before waypoint six, which allowed Gutierréz to assume a two-minute advantage before Quintero reduced that to eight seconds at the penultimate split.
Quintero then opened up a five-minute margin at the finish to keep his hopes alive of beating the record of stage wins in a single Dakar – held by Jacky Ickx in 1984.
For Gutierréz, it was second strong stage performance in a row following a number of mechanical issues that has beset her Dakar. She had to replace a steering column on the opening stage proper of the event, while transmission failure on stage three cost her and navigator François Cazalet 15 minutes.
EKS South Racing’s Francisco Lopez Contardo remains in a comfortable lead of the overall times, despite losing 12 minutes to Quintero. The Chilean’s advantage is now 2h12m over Gutierréz who moved ahead of Lopez Contardo’s team-mate Sebastian Eriksson who lost half an hour with two driveshaft issues and a loss of front brakes.
In the SSV class, there was drama as Rodrigo Luppi de Oliveira lost the overall lead of the rally after stopping on the stage for over an hour between the second and third waypoints. The Brazilian, who had led American Austin Jones (Can-Am Factory South Racing) by just under seven minutes coming into the stage, has now dropped well down the order.
Aron Domzala won the stage ahead of Michał Goczał by 22s, with Gerard Farres Guell third. The latter pair crucially finished a whopping 16 minutes ahead of Jones who moves back into the lead of the overall classification.
Six-and-a-half minutes covers the top three in the standings, with Rokas Baciuška nearly half an hour adrift.