Sébastien Loeb’s Dakar Rally victory chances were dealt a major blow on day three following a pair of punctures as Carlos Sainz gave Audi its first stage win.
Having won Monday’s second stage, Loeb came into a shortened Al Qaisumah loop nine minutes adrift of current leader, Toyota’s Nasser Al-Attiyah, but immediately dropped time before the opening split.
A puncture dropped Loeb more than 17 minutes adrift of the lead while transmission problems that robbed him of four-wheel-drive since the start meant the nine-time World Rally Champion shipped, in total, 33m34s on the stage.
“We did 250 kms without full drive which meant crossing the dunes was really tough,” said Loeb post-stage.
“Of course I’m disappointed to lose some time but I am happy to have got to the end of the stage losing only 33 minutes as it could have been worse but those are the cards we’ve been dealt today.
“We are second overall on the Dakar Rally in the first week; everyone knows how hard this event is so there’s plenty of time to pull things back.”
Heavy rain in the northern region of Saudi Arabia meant that the stage, which had already been transformed into a loop due to the cancellation of the Al Artawiyah bivouac on Monday, had to be started from the planned first checkpoint. A total of 62 miles were subsequently cut from the special stage itinerary.
Quick out of the blocks was Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Henk Lategan who set a blistering pace in his GR Hilux DKR T1+.
The South African Cross Country Rally Champion gapped Sainz by 32s at the first split, 30 miles into the test, before having that margin reduced to seven by the second. Impressively, Lategan responded and stretched out a 14s margin before Sainz took the lead at the penultimate waypoint.
After that, Sainz maintained his 38s advantage at the finish and will open the road on Wednesday’s journey from Al Qaisumah to the Saudi capital Riyadh.
It was another strong day for Audi following its nightmare start to the rally on Sunday, with Stéphane Peterhansel third quickest and team colleague Mattias Ekström fifth.
The pair were split by the rapid Bahrain Raid Xtreme Hunter of Nani Roma. The 2014 Dakar winner ran a solid pace all day and moved ahead of Ekström in the final split to take the fourth fastest time, 2m41s adrift of Sainz.
Al-Attiyah took things easy from second on the road and capitalized on Loeb’s misfortune to remain firmly in charge of the overall classification, despite dropping over five minutes on the stage.
The Toyota driver, alongside navigator Mathieu Baumel, was eighth fastest having progressively lost a minute at each split. Nevertheless, the pair still increased their lead to a daunting 37 minutes over Loeb and Fabian Lurquin.
Al-Attiyah finished behind two other Toyota Hilux T1s, of Giniel de Villiers who finished seventh and the Overdrive Racing of Yazeed Al Rajhi and Michael Orr in sixth.
The second Overdrive Toyota of Lucio Alvarez finished the stage ninth quickest, some 6m23s off the pace, but this was still enough to maintain their third place overall in the standings. The Argentinian pairing are now just under five minutes behind Loeb.
Loeb’s BRX team-mates Orlando Terranova and Dani Oliveras Carreras completed the top 10 in the stage.
Further back, Laia Sanz was 27th on the stage, just 20 minutes behind her Extreme E team-mate Sainz, in her first Dakar on four wheels.
Stage 3 (Al Qaisumah– Al Qaisumah) result
1 Carlos Sainz/Lucas Cruz (Audi) 3h25m00s
2 Henk Lategan/Brett Cummings (Toyota Gazoo Racing) +3m28s
3 Stéphane Peterhansel/Edouard Boulanger (Audi) +7m56s
4 Nani Roma/Alex Haro Bravo (Bahrain Raid Xtreme) +8m02s
5 Mattias Ekström/Emil Bergkvist (Audi) +13m30s
6 Yazeed Al Rajhi/Michael Orr (Overdrive Toyota) +8m41s
7 Giniel de Villiers/Dennis Murphy (Toyota Gazoo Racing)
8 Nasser Al-Attiyah/Mathieu Baumel (Toyota Gazoo Racing) +11m17s
9 Lucio Alvarez/Armand Monleon (Overdrive Toyota) +40m53
10 Orlando Terranova/Dani Oliveras Carreras (Bahrain Raid Xtreme) +1h05m03s
1 Al-Attiyah/Baumel (Toyota) 9h31m22s
2 Loeb/Lurquin (Bahrain Raid Xtreme) +37m40s
3 Alvarez/ Monleon (Overdrive Toyota) +42m06s
4 de Villiers/Murphy (Toyota Gazoo Racing) +45m22s
5 Al Rajhi/ Orr (Overdrive Toyota) +47m29s
6 Vladimir Vasilyev/Oleg Uperenko (VRT Team BMW) +49m33s
7 Martin Prokop/Viktor Chytka (Orlen Team Ford) +54m46s
8 Sebastian Halpern/Bernardo Graue (X-raid Mini JCW) +1h01m32s
9 Kuba Przygónski/Timo Gottschalk (X-raid Mini JCW) +1h06m47s
10 Terranova/Dani Oliveras Carreras (Bahrain Raid Xtreme) +1h08m04s
Gozał brothers to the fore in SSV
The Cobant-Energylandia Rally Team dominated the third stage of the rally in the SSV class, with brothers Marek and Michał Goczał completing a one-two result.
The latter Goczał remains some distance off the overall leader Austin Jones but ensured that the siblings have taken two out of the three stages so far, along with the prologue.
Starting sixth on the road, Marek was in control from the off and quickly opened up a lead of 2m30s over his brother. It extended to just under three minutes at the finish.
Stage 1 winner Aron Domzala finished third on the stage, 30s ahead of Jones, who retains a 5m23s lead over Rodrigo Luppi de Oliveira, who was nearly three minutes slower than the American.
Extreme E champion Molly Taylor continued her Dakar learning curve by consolidating eighth place in the standings with the 10th fastest time in her South Racing Can-Am.
In the T3 Lightweight Prototype category, it was a largely difficult day for the Red Bull Off-Road Junior team as three out of the four cars struck trouble.
WRC regular Andreas Mikkelsen failed to start the stage after a damaged rollcage – a legacy of his stage two crash – forced him and navigator Ola Fløene out of the rally. Meanwhile, transmission woes left both Guillaume de Mevius and Cristina Gutierréz stationary on the stage for some time.
There was some celebration for the team, though, as Seth Quintero took his second stage victory of the event, albeit out of victory contention following a 10-hour penalty for not reaching the bivouac in the required time allocation on Monday, having himself been stranded in the desert with mechanical issues.
EKS South Racing’s Francisco “Chaleco” Lopez Contardo, therefore, leads the overall classification by close to 10 minutes over team-mate Sebastian Eriksson after finishing second on the stage.