Bahrain Raid Xtreme’s Sébastien Loeb finally put an end to his run of bad luck on the Dakar Rally by taking his first stage victory of the 2023 edition on the Ha’il loop.
Having lost more than an hour with a series of punctures on stage two, and a subsequent trackrod arm failure on Tuesday, Loeb’s chances of a first victory on the rally-raid were all but extinguished before the start of stage four.
But a trouble-free run through the 425km test following a close battle with Audi’s Stéphane Peterhansel enabled the nine-time World Rally champion to emerge as the quickest driver at the finish by 13 seconds.
Nasser Al-Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel continue to lead for Toyota Gazoo Racing, having extended their advantage over second-placed Yazeed Al Rajhi and Dirk von Zitzewitz, who dropped two minutes to the defending Dakar winners.
But while Prodrive celebrated its second stage victory in as many days following Guerlain Chicherit’s fastest time on Tuesday, it lost one of its factory Hunters as Orlando Terranova was forced out of the stage after 20km through injury.
A team statement said: “Orly returned to the bivouac with a painful back. He had a big landing yesterday and was OK, but today after just 10kms, his back was hurting again so he decided to return to Ha’il.”
Terranova, who had been running in the top five overall, has undergone an X-ray and will consult a physio before making a decision on whether to continue from stage five.
Large dunes were the order of the day for the crews, with navigation a big challenge for the opening 140km of the first of two loops around Ha’il.
Loeb and navigator Fabian Lurquin were quick out of the blocks and only trailed Peterhansel by 26s after the first waypoint and stayed within a minute of the Audi RS Q e-tron E2 before the first checkpoint at 140km.
Having negotiated a series of twisty tracks between dunes, the stage then went off-piste into large level one dunes, with Loeb initially losing time to Peterhansel by the sixth waypoint.
Things improved significantly in the second half of the stage and Loeb began to carve into Peterhansel’s lead, reducing a 1m21s deficit to just 10s before the penultimate checkpoint, before moving ahead as the stage headed back into the dunes.
Loeb gapped the Audi by nearly a minute but was pegged back to 13s at the finish, with Carlos Sainz and Lucas Cruz some way back in third, 1m50s adrift.
Previous leader Sainz had his own battle with the current leader Al-Attiyah, with the pair closely matched all stage. Eventually, just 14s split the Audi and Toyota with Sainz prevailing.
Al Rajhi started behind Al-Attiyah on the stage but couldn’t use this to his advantage as he dropped another two minutes to the TGR Hilux.
Sixth in the stage was Al-Attiyah’s team-mate Henk Lategan, fresh off the back of a superb second place on Tuesday. Lategan didn’t have the same sort of form in stage four, finishing seven minutes down on Loeb but ahead of Audi’s Mattias Ekström.
But there was new disappointment for stage three winner Chicherit, who was forced to stop for a long time with an issue.
Another one to suffer on the Ha’il loop was Century Factory Racing Team’s Mathieu Serradori, who was also hamstrung for over 30 minutes.
In the overall classification, Al-Attiyah’s lead over Al Rajhi has ballooned to over 18 minutes, while Peterhansel is just over 30s further back in third and closing on the Overdrive Racing Hilux.
Sainz is fourth, just over half an hour off the lead, with Lategan sixth but only two seconds clear of Overdrive’s Lucas Moraes and Timo Gottschalk.
Next up is the third TGR Hilux DKR of Giniel de Villiers, who suffered two punctures inside 30km on Tuesday’s third stage, and had a two-minute penalty for speeding in the neutral zone. He’s around four minutes ahead of Ekström, who in turn is 24 minutes ahead of Martin Prokop’s Orlen Benzima Ford Raptor.
Erik van Loon, who starred on Monday’s second stage, rounds out the top 10 in his Overdrive Racing Toyota, while Christian Lavieille – contesting his 20th Dakar – is 11th, just three minutes down.
Stage 4 Result (Ha’il– Ha’il)
1 Sébastien Loeb/Fabian Lurquin (Bahrain Raid Xtreme) 4h11m34s
2 Stéphane Peterhansel/Edouard Boulanger (Team Audi Sport) +13s
3 Carlos Sainz/Lucas Cruz (Team Audi Sport) +1m50s
4 Nasser Al-Attiyah/Mathieu Baumel (Toyota Gazoo Racing) +2m06s
5 Yazeed Al Rajhi/Dirk von Zitzewitz (Overdrive Racing) +7m04s
6 Henk Lategan/Brett Cummings (Toyota Gazoo Racing) +7m23s
7 Mattias Ekström/Emil Bergkvist (Team Audi Sport) +10m45s
8 Lucas Moraes/Timo Gottschalk (Overdrive Racing) +13m48s
9 Giniel de Villiers/Dennis Murphy (Toyota Gazoo Racing) +16m11s
10 Romain Dumas/Max Delfino (Rebellion Racing) +32m22s
1 Nasser Al-Attiyah/Mathieu Baumel (Toyota Gazoo Racing) 16h34m13s
2 Al Rajhi/von Zitzewitz (Overdrive Racing) +18m18s
3 Peterhansel/Boulanger (Team Audi Sport) +18m52s
4 Sainz/Cruz (Team Audi Sport) +32m55s
5 Lategan/Cummings (Toyota Gazoo Racing) +45m25s
6 Moraes/Gottschalk (Overdrive Racing) +45m27s
7 De Villiers/Murphy (Toyota Gazoo Racing) +46m13s
8 Ekström/Bergkvist (Team Audi Sport) +50m00s
9 Martin Prokop/Viktor Chytka (Orlen Benzima Team) _1h14m43s
10 Erik van Loon/Sébastien Delaunay (Overdrive Racing) +1h15m40s
Teenage Goczal takes stage win as Guthrie doubles up in T3
The sensation of this year’s Dakar Rally, Eryk Goczal, demonstrated his supreme speed once again on stage four, by taking his second stage win of the event.
At just 18 years-old, the son of Marek Goczal has already beaten the record for the youngest stage winner – set by Seth Quintero two years ago – and beat South Racing’s Gerard Farres Guell by 3m29s.
Yasir Seaidan was the early pacesetter for South Racing and looked set to take the stage win before losing over four minutes after the halfway marker.
Goczal, who had dropped time of his own after closing in on Seaidan, then made a late surge to overhaul Cristiano Batista and Rodrigo Luppi de Oliveira who both dropped back.
De Oliveira still leads the event, with Goczal up to second ahead of Rokas Baciuška.
In T3 Lightweight Prototype, Mitch Guthrie Jr repeated his stage two success to take the lead of the overall amid dramas for Red Bull Off-Road Junior team-mate Seth Quintero.
The latter, ersthwile leader, hit trouble around the 95km marker and lost over an hour, dropping down to fourth. Meanwhile, there was more frustration for three-time winner Francisco Chaleco Lopez Contardo who ground to a halt after leading by more than five minutes early on.