Bahrain Raid Xtreme’s Sébastien Loeb has said that the second stage of the 2023 Dakar Rally was “no pleasure to drive” after a litany of punctures effectively curtailed his victory hopes for another year.
Loeb and navigator Fabian Lurquin went into Monday’s stage two second in the overall classification to Audi’s Carlos Sainz but were forced into recovery mode almost immediately with the first of what proved to be several flat tires.
The 430km stage from Sea Camp to AlUla was noted in the stage description as being particularly rocky and stoney from the off, with tight and twisty tracks testing car and crew strength.
Loeb wasn’t the only one to struggle but told DirtFish post-stage that he could not have done anything more to avoid the fate which befell him and BRX team-mate Orlando Terranova.
“It was really bad,” said Loeb. “It was really a bad stage, honestly it was no pleasure to drive. I was driving 10% of what I could do and even then, I got some punctures.
“Only top punctures, so [I got them] only driving straight and at 60kph [37.2mph] so I don’t know what more we could have done.
“We were driving as safe as we could and maybe faster would have been better because some guys were driving faster than me in the stones, and they didn’t get any punctures.
“So, I’ve no idea, it was really a bad, bad stage because the entire first part of the stage was completely destroyed by stones, it was not interesting.”
Loeb admitted that, while the likes of stage winner Nasser Al-Attiyah and rally leader Sainz survived the test by driving quicker, he found the stage topography itself unnecessarily rough.
“It’s just completely stupid to drive there, it’s not a road, it’s just driving in the middle of the big stones for kilometer after kilometer. Maybe next time I will drive faster.
“The car was working well, and we struggled to repair the last puncture we had so we took a lot of time to try and finish the stage.”
Rocky stages are not uncommon on the Dakar Rally and the organizer, the ASO, set the 2023 route as a result of competitor feedback following last year’s edition.
But while a handful of crews managed to get through the stage relatively trouble-free, large time differences between cars suggested more suffered than survived.
For Loeb’s team-mate Terranova, it was a similar story as he and navigator Alex Haro Bravo ran out of spares, having donated one to the stricken Loeb.
“It was a difficult and very frustrating stage as we were driving carefully,” Terranova said. “Even like this, we get six or seven small punctures, and we were without a spare after 60km, so we decided to go very slowly.
“We knew we could repair the punctures because they were very small, and then we stopped to give Séb a spare. It was a very, very, very stoney stage and even when driving carefully you have this problem, it was incredible.”
Also suffering the same fate was Audi’s Mattias Ekström who said he “got too many punctures during the stage”, although his delays were minimized to just over half an hour despite stopping to assist a crashed motorcycle rider – as per the rally-raid regulations for the first competitor on the scene of an accident. Team-mate Stéphane Peterhansel also suffered two slow punctures inside 40km and labelled the stage as “arduous”.
However, one crew to enjoy a degree of success behind the top three of Al-Attiyah, Erik van Loon and Sainz was Century Factory Racing Team’s Mathieu Serradori, who was fourth fastest after a shrewd tactical call.
“I think we’ve really got our teeth into the Dakar today,” Serradori said.
“David Castera told us that it would be a difficult stage and I think it’s necessary to pay full attention to him in the evening at the briefing.
“Despite all that, we drove a good stage, using a good strategy by deflating the tyres when we knew that they were going to suffer and we knew they would today. We didn’t aim for performance but instead sought to avoid the pitfalls.
“There were 300 km of canyons and stones, it was crazy. I can assure you that in the car we didn’t say a word, we were totally concentrated throughout the day until we got to the dunes just before the bivouac, which was a bit of a relief.”