! Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar took a big step toward winning the 2023 Dakar Rally by winning Stage 6 while his Audi rivals Carlos Sainz and Stephane Peterhansel crashed badly.
Al Attiyah gained a significant overall lead when his three closest rivals were eliminated from contention, and Sebastien Loeb led another powerful recovery by Bahrain Raid Xtreme in the Dakar Rally on Friday.
Loeb and Fabian Lurquin, driving a BRX Prodrive Hunter, completed the 358-kilometer sixth stage from Hail to Riyadh in the second fastest time to earn more valuable W2RC points.
Guerlain Chicherit and Alex Winocq took fourth place on the day, making it a successful day for the Prodrive Hunters overall. Vaidotas Zala and Paulo Fiuza of Lithuania came in fifth place with their time.
Al-Attiyah of Toyota and Peterhansel fought hard for most of the 358-kilometer special between Hail and Riyadh. At the second checkpoint, Peterhansel overtook Al-Attiyah’s early advantage to take the lead.
After crossing the 207-kilometer mark, Peterhansel had built up a buffer of well over a minute. However, just minutes later, he was involved in a major accident in his Audi RS Q e-tron.
The magnitude of the incident necessitated the crew’s abandonment of the stage because co-driver Edouard Boulanger needed to be flown to the hospital for back injuries.
Shortly after that, Sainz had his own accident at the same stage, ripping off one of the tires due to a steep gradient change. This was a second blow to Audi.
Sainz and Lucas Cruz, his co-driver, both made it out of the accident unscathed, but the repairs took a lot of time, and at the time of writing, the two had not yet reached the updated bivouac location near the Saudi capital.
Al-Attiyah now holds a commanding 1h06m advantage in the overall standings, with Peterhansel and Sainz effectively out of the race and Overdrive Toyota’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi yet to finish due to suspected issues.
Henk Lategan, a Toyota factory teammate, is his closest rival. He finished the stage third fastest, 3m22s behind the Qatari driver’s benchmark.
Lucas Moraes of Overdrive is still four minutes behind in third place, and works driver Giniel de Villiers has moved up to fourth to lead the pack in an unprecedented Toyota 1-2-3-4.
The only surviving Audi driver, Mattias Ekstrom, has the best non-Toyota car in the field. After a run to sixth on Friday’s test, Ekstrom trails Al-Attiyah by 1hr46m and is in fifth place.
Loeb’s Hunter, built by Prodrive, is up next. The Frenchman, on the other hand, is 1hr57m behind the current champion in the general classification, so his chances of winning Dakar in addition to his nine WRC titles are pretty much over.
The provisional top 10 in the overall standings included Le Mans 24 Hours winner Romain Dumas (Rebellion), Martin Propok (Benzenia), Brian Baragwanath (Century), and Wei Han (Hanwei).
After a series of misfortunes this week, Loeb’s rise to sixth place overall was a testament to his concentration skills and the BRX team’s perseverance.
The day’s three top five finishes served as a powerful reminder of the BRX Prodrive Hunter’s versatility; it won the 2022 W2RC round in Morocco and Andalucia for Chicherit and Loeb, respectively, two months earlier.
The nine-time World Rally Champion and Stage 4 winner will now continue his quest for W2RC points on tomorrow’s 333-kilometer stage from Riyadh to Al Duwadimi, with BRX hopeful of contending for additional stage victories until the 15th of January in Dammam. Agencies