French rally great Sebastien Loeb’s hopes of a first ever Dakar Rally success all but evaporated on Thursday after he was stranded in the desert for more than an hour due to a mechanical problem.
The 49-year-old record nine time world rally champion trailed overall leader Carlos Sainz by just over 13 minutes at the start of the 11th and penultimate stage.
However, his Prodrive Hunter car came to a halt 132 kilometres into the 480km special from Al-Ula to Yanbu regarded as the ‘piece de resistance’ of the second week of the gruelling rally.
By the time he resumed — a car from the Chinese team YunXiang and partner of Prodrive had stopped to help the disconsolate Frenchman — the runner-up in the past two editions was over an hour adrift of Sainz.
By contrast Ross Branch kept alive his slim hopes of winning the motorbike crown as the Botswanan posted his second stage win of this year’s contest.
The 37-year-old South Africa-born Hero rider took 32 seconds off overall leader Ricky Brabec’s lead but the American still holds a 10min 22sec lead going into Friday’s final stage — 175km ride around Yanbu.
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