Sebastien Loeb moved to within striking distance of Dakar Rally car leader Carlos Sainz on Wednesday as Ricky Brabec tightened his grip on the bike standings.
Loeb, runner-up in the past two years but still looking for his first victory, shaved a further seven minutes off Sainz’s lead to leave him 13min 22sec adrift ahead of Thursday’s mammoth penultimate 11th stage.
The 480km special from Al-Ula to Yanbu on the Red Sea promises to be a gruelling test for both man and machine before Friday’s finish.
Described by organisers as the second week’s ‘piece de resistance’, both Sainz and Loeb will be alive to the ever-present threat of losing precious time to punctures on the rugged barren terrain.
Loeb and Sainz both suffered mechanical issues on Wednesday’s 10th stage around Al-Ula, finishing 16th and 19th respectively behind Toyota’s French driver Guerlain Chicherit.
South African Brian Baragwanath took second with Benediktas Vanagas of Lithuania completing the day’s podium.
“I lost seven or eight minutes,” said 61-year-old Sainz who is aiming for a fourth Dakar title.
“I had to wait for Mattias (Ekstrom, his Audi teammate) because I was running out of tyres.”
Loeb reflected: “It was a hard day for us.
“We had a problem with the [jack] of the car and we had two punctures, so we needed to climb the rocks to find a way to lift the rear tyre to be able to change it.
“We lost about 15 minutes like this. For sure, it’s a bit frustrating, but okay. The stages are hard, it seems Carlos is still losing some time, so at the end, we’ll see where we are tonight.”
Switching from four to two wheels, Brabec led home a Honda 1-2-3.
The winner in 2020 now leads Botswana’s Ross Branch by almost 11 minutes in the overall standings, with Adrien Van Beveren only 52sec further back in third.
“Two days left, the team’s looking really strong and I’m 100 percent right now,” said Brabec, the winner in 2020.
Looking ahead to Thursday Brabec added: “Tomorrow, in the big stage, the rockies.
“I’m going to use some energy and try and secure something a little bit more so stage 12 is a bit more relaxing for me and I can ride wheels all the way to the finish line.”
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