Sebastien Loeb grabbed victory Sunday in the eighth stage of the Dakar Rally after Carlos Sainz was hit with a five-minute penalty.
The victory lifted Loeb to fourth overall but he remains almost two hours behind rally leader Nasser Al-Attiyah.
The 48-year-old Frenchman won the stage by 2 minutes and 11 seconds in his Prodrive from Qatari Al-Attiyah after 822 km of racing through valleys and sand between Al-Duwadimi and Riyadh.
Loeb has had a wildly up-and-down race in his Prodrive. After bad days on Monday and Tuesday he won on Wednesday but rolled his car on Thursday and on Saturday lost more than 16 minutes.
“It was a good stage, a clean stage this time, for us,” said Loeb at the finish on Sunday. “Just one puncture, we had to change one wheel, but the rest was okay. We tried to make it a big one.”
Sainz has also had shifting fortunes in the sands. On Sunday he was caught driving 40 kilometres over the limit in his Audi in a 30kph section. The penalty dropped him to third for the day at 3min 31sec.
The Spaniard is 17th overall.
Sainz said he was happy with his drive after a ‘disappointing’ first week.
“We had a good stage, a clean stage. Finally, we got to enjoy ourselves a little bit and get a clear run.”
The Spaniard complained that because of his poor results he has been starting way down the field.
“I liked it much better before in the Dakar, when a priority driver got a problem, you were immediately put in the top 15,” he said. But on Sunday, despite “starting so far behind, we had no dust, thanks to the rain.”
Before the penalty was announced Al Attiyah said he was happy with third.
“Finishing third is okay,” he said. “We have to try and be in the top 3 every day to earn as many points as we can for the championship.”
Al Attiyah gained time on his closest pursuer, Henk Lategan, who was fourth in a Toyota at 4min 53sec. The South African fell 1hr 3min 46sec behind the leader.
Brazilian Lucas Moraes is third in another Toyota at 1:20.22 with Loeb fourth, 1:52.06 off first.
Monday is a rest day before the competitors hit the road again on Tuesday for the final six stages.
“Next week I’ll be home on the dunes,” said Al Attiyah, nicknamed the Prince of Dunes. “There’ll be plenty of dunes, but you have to be careful and take it one day at a time.”
‘A terrible week’
In the motorbikes, Ross Branch made amends for running out of fuel in the previous two stages with a welcome win.
After Saturday’s washout, when torrential rains trashed the route, the bikers were back into a mesh of stony valleys and massive sand dunes.
Branch, from Botswana, completed the course on his Hero 3min 15sec ahead of the Australian Daniel Sanders (GasGas).
“It’s been a terrible week for us,” said 36-year-old Branch.
“We ran out of fuel, which was completely unexpected and nobody’s fault.
“I needed to get back on top for myself and for the team. They’ve worked so hard.
“We’ve been perfect today and that’s what counts.”
Sanders, who lost the overall lead during a disastrous stage on Thursday, benefitted on Sunday from a two-minute penalty handed out to Mason Klein (KTM) for speeding in the road section.
That cost the 21-year-old Californian the overall lead and allowed compatriot Skyler Howes (Husqvarna) to retain first place ahead of Monday’s rest day.
Howes holds a 1min 13sec lead over Klein, who was given third in the stage.
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