Sebastien Loeb reeled off his fourth stage win in a row at the Dakar Rally on Thursday as American Skyler Howes took over at the top of the motorcycling standings.
Qatari’s defending car champion Nasser Al-Attiyah is streets ahead in the hunt for the 2023 title and survived a challenging day in the Empty Quarter to finish fifth, almost seven minutes behind Loeb.
France’s nine-time world rally champion’s fifth win of this year’s Dakar left him still nine minutes adrift of second-placed Brazilian Lucas Moraes overall.
Al-Attiyah is coasting to his fifth Dakar crown with a one hour 21 minute cushion over Moraes ahead of Friday’s second marathon day in the Empty Quarter with the motorsport’s toughest endurance challenge finishing on Sunday on the shores of the Arabian Gulf in Dammam.
Loeb completed the 274 kilometre drive over two minutes up on his Prodrive teammate Guerlain Chicherit but it wasn’t all plain sailing in the Saudi sand.
“We had to change one wheel in the dunes, so it was a bit tricky to find a good place to do it and we lost a bit of time for it,” the 48-year-old said.
“For the rest, I had a good rhythm. I pushed hard. The dunes were not so complicated overall, except some parts that were really tricky, but in the end we had a good day.” he added.
While Al-Attiyah looks to have the car crown wrapped up nicely it is a very different story amongst the two-wheelers.
Argentine Luciano Benavides took the stage 11 honours but there was a change at the top of the overall standings.
Luciano’s brother Kevin, a winner in 2021, had led into the stage but ended the day’s action in 10th, more than six minutes behind his younger sibling.
Howes was fourth and now leads the rankings by 28-seconds over Toby Price, with Kevin Benavides over two minutes further back in third.
Friday’s 12th stage is a 376km ride from the Empty Quarter Marathon to Shaybah.
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