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Loeb wins again as Dakar champion Al-Attiyah eyes fifth title

French driver Sebastien Loeb won his second successive stage and fourth in all of this year’s Dakar Rally though Qatari defending champion Nasser Al-Attiyah remains firmly in charge.

Al-Attiyah holds a daunting one hour 21 minutes advantage over his Brazilian Toyota team-mate Lucas Moraes with Loeb in third, a further 16 minutes in arrears.  

Loeb — a record nine-time world rally champion — timed 3min 4sec quicker in his Prodrive than Sweden’s Mattias Ekstrom with Moraes third on the 624 kilometres 10th stage from Harad to Shaybah.

Al-Attiyah may be looking comfortable for a fifth title but the 52-year-old knows there remain potential pitfalls as the race heads into the final four stages.

The next two are challenging even by the ultimate endurance race’s standards as they are termed “marathons” and take place in the Empty Quarter.

Adding to their challenges the competitors will not have assistance at camp following Thursday’s stage.  

“We got to the Empty Quarter! It was a good day to test things for tomorrow, we know what we need,” said Al-Attiyah.

“I’m pleased, I’ve got a good feeling with the car, we didn’t make any mistakes. I didn’t push too hard today, I didn’t want to take risks. The marathon stage is tomorrow.”

The situation in the motorbike category is far tighter.  

Kevin Benavides took over as the overall leader after Botswana’s Ross Branch won Wednesday’s stage.

Benavides, 34 and seeking his second Dakar title to add to his 2021 victory, now heads former leader Skyler Howes of the USA by 1min 29sec.

‘Good job’

Australia’s Toby Price is third, 2min 10sec off the pace.

Benavides finished fourth in the stage, a minute slower than Branch — who recorded his second victory in this year’s race and more than made up for the embarrassment of having run out of fuel on two previous stages.

“I think I did a good job,” said Benavides.

“I attacked before crashing and losing a few minutes there, then I went back on the offensive.”

Howes posted the 17th fastest time, over seven minutes off the winner.

“I just wanted to make it through this stage today and get ready for the marathon stage,” said Howes.

“On short stages like this, you can definitely lose it, but trying to win it is not necessary.”

Price was pleased too with his day’s work ahead of Thursday’s far more intimidating stage.

“We just played it safe today,” said two-time champion who is yet to win since the race moved to Saudi Arabia in 2020.

“There was a lot of broken dunes and the sand was really soft.

“All in all, I think so far the position was pretty good.

“Hopefully a few people will get in the mix of it.

“We’ll try and get some gaps (Thursday) and see if it works.”

The leader of the truck category Ales Loprais meanwhile said he was “terribly sorry” after his vehicle hit an Italian tourist who subsequently died on Tuesday.

Loprais’s Praga truck struck the 69-year-old Italian man who was taking pictures behind a sand dune during the ninth stage between Riyadh and Haradh.

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