Sébastien Loeb claimed Bahrain Raid Xtreme’s first-ever World Rally Raid Championship victory as Toyota’s Nasser Al-Attiyah clinched the title on the season-ending Andalucía Rally.
Bad weather affected the event’s second day, forcing the cancellation of stage two and forcing organizers to award half-points only as the required distance of 900km had not been reached.
The reduction in available points, however, failed to have a significant bearing on the championship battle as Al-Attiyah finished second to Loeb at the finish, a mere six seconds adrift.
Loeb kicked off proceedings on Thursday by winning the prologue by 17 seconds from Al-Attiyah, but the four-time Dakar Rally winner struck back on the first proper stage around the Dos Hermanas loop to take a commanding 11 minutes out of the BRX Hunter.
Key to Al-Attiyah’s surge forward came from his road position. The Toyota driver – alongside navigator Mathieu Baumel – was 11th in the prologue, meaning he had far better conditions for stage 1B and duly reaped the rewards.
Day two had been Loeb’s chance at fighting back, aiming to take a similarly sized chunk out of Al-Attiyah’s lead.
It's always frustrating when you think you're going to race and you can't, but the weather conditions were very tricky, and the helicopters couldn't get to the specialSébastien Loeb on the stage cancellation that made Andalucía Rally a half-points event
But mother nature intervened on Friday morning. Rain had fallen in the early hours, but it was low cloud and fog which forced two postponements and, ultimately, cancellation on safety grounds.
Event director David Castera explained the reason to call off the second stage.
“We’ve decided to cancel stage two of the Andalucía Rally because our helicopters couldn’t reach the stage, due to bad weather conditions.
“The stage itself is quite clear, but it’s 120 kilometers [75 miles] away and there’s a lot of fog in between, with zero visibility. So, the helicopters couldn’t get there.
“We waited until the last minute to cancel. We made the stage shorter as the hours went by, but the deadline was 2pm. That has now passed, and our helicopters still can’t get there, so we’ve been forced to cancel the stage.”
For Loeb the disappointment was clear, but the nine-time World Rally champion had already known before the decision to award half points that the prospect of him stealing the W2RC crown from Al-Attiyah was steep.
“It’s always frustrating when you think you’re going to race and you can’t, but the weather conditions were very tricky, and the helicopters couldn’t get to the special,” he said.
“That means we were not safe, and, in those conditions, you don’t take the risk of going out. The organizers canceled the stage and I think it was the only thing they could do.”
By Saturday, things had cleared up in the region, but the start of the third stage had a worryingly familiar tone as fog caused another postponement.
Fortunately, though, the stage did get going and Loeb was a man on the move.
Al-Attiyah got through the stage without issue but had shipped a staggering 11m48s, meaning he entered the final stage 28 seconds in arrears of Loeb in the overall classification.
Loeb then came through the final day’s action slower than Al-Attiyah, but only by 22 seconds and thus securing BRX’s first rally raid victory as a team – Guerlain Chicherit had won the previous round in a customer Hunter – by a slender margin.
“This is fantastic to bring Bahrain Raid Xtreme their first World Rally Raid Championship victory as we’ve worked hard since 2020 to be able to get this win,” said Loeb.
“The fight with Nasser Al-Attiyah was always very tough but I pushed hard all the way through this stage and yet we were only six seconds apart so that was a great battle over a rally like this with such tricky stages.
“Over the season we’ve had good performance from the Prodrive Hunter – we’re there now with the speed and were it not for some bad luck on the last rally we’d be even closer to the title.”
Behind Loeb and Al-Attiyah was the Overdrive Racing Toyota Hilux of Yazeed Al Rajhi in third, nine minutes clear of the GCK Hunter of Rallye du Maroc winner Chicherit.
In the T3 class, Red Bull Off Road Junior Team driver Guillaume de Mevius and new navigator François Cazalet won ahead of team-mates Seth Quintero and Dennis Zenz, but it was Francisco “Chaleco” Lopez Contardo who picked up the world title in third.
His nearest rival Cristína Gutierrez in another of the Red Bull buggies had been close to Lopez Contardo early on but slipped out of contention on the penultimate day, leaving the South Racing Can-Am crew victorious.
Meanwhile, in the T4 class, former World Rallycross Championship driver Rokaš Baciuska became world champion in class after taking third place, as South Racing Can-Am team-mate Gerard Farres Guell took the win.