Sebastien Loeb took his third stage win in a row in the Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday but reigning champion Nasser Al-Attiyah stayed comfortably clear at the top of the car category.
Loeb’s fourth stage win of the 2023 event left France’s nine-times world rally champion third overall for the Bahrain Raid Xtreme team but more than an hour and a half behind Al-Attiyah’s Toyota Hilux.
Al-Attiyah was an hour and 21 minutes overall ahead of Overdrive Racing’s Brazilian Lucas Moraes, who finished third and just ahead of the Qatari on the 114km 10th special stage from Haradh to Shaybah as the rally entered the Empty Quarter.
“We have a big gap now. I hope to finish and to win this Dakar,” said the Qatari.
The rally ends in Dammam on Sunday.
Loeb finished three minutes clear of Audi’s Mattias Ekstroem and reported no problems after safely negotiating the desert dunes.
“It was quite long, quite demanding, but the feeling was good with the car…we were the first on the track, but we had the motorbike tracks,” he said.
The day started without Spaniard Carlos Sainz, the triple Dakar champion who rolled his electric hybrid Audi on Tuesday’s stage and withdrew with the car too damaged to continue.
That left Ekstroem as the sole Audi driver remaining in the endurance rally, with French team mate and 14-times Dakar winner Stephane Peterhansel retiring after a crash on last Friday’s sixth stage.
In the motorcycle category, Botswana’s Ross Branch — who trains in the Kalahari desert — won the stage for India’s Hero Motorsports.
Argentine KTM rider and 2021 winner Kevin Benavides led the overall standings, one minute and 29 seconds clear of American Skyler Howes on a Husqvarna.