Carlos Sainz closes in on overall Dakar win as Sebastien Loeb suffers damage

Carlos Sainz closes in on overall Dakar win as Sebastien Loeb suffers damage

Carlos Sainz Sr. is close to winning the 2024 Dakar Rally after main rival Sebastien Loeb’s BRX Hunter suffered damage that cost him crucial time on Stage 11.

Sébastien Loeb’s hopes of winning his first Dakar Rally were dashed by a broken wishbone on the Prodrive Hunter in the first third of the penultimate stage, which opened the door for Sainz’s fourth victory.

With the voluntary retirement of his new teammate Nasser Al-Attiyah on Wednesday, Loeb was left without the originally planned support of the five-time Qatari champion. Loeb’s performance could have been different if Al-Attiyah was still in action.

Friday’s 46th Dakar Rally final will see Sainz start as the overall leader, 1:27:06 hours ahead of Guillaume de Mevius and 1:42:20 ahead of his Toyota teammate Guerlain Chicherit, who claimed victory on Thursday as well. Martin Prokop came in fourth place (+ 2:17:47) in the Ford Raptor.

The eleventh and penultimate stage began in Al’Ula and covered 587 kilometers to the finish line in Yanbu. A great deal of the stage was comprised of tough, desolate terrain and for the drivers, it was their final physical battle.

Leading driver Carlos Sainz started the race in 22nd place and was 34 seconds faster than Guillaume de Mevius (Toyota) at the first checkpoint. His Audi teammates Stéphane Peterhansel and Mattias Ekström closely trailed behind him as the gap between the Spaniard and Sébastien Loeb in the Prodrive Hunter was slightly over a minute.

After 93 kilometers, Loeb closed the gap on Carlos Sainz to just 21 seconds. The two front-runners in the day’s classification are also the favorites to win the 2024 Dakar. They were followed by Lucas Moraes in the Toyota Hilux, who came in 1:09 minutes behind the leader.

However, Loeb was forced to stop for ten minutes after the special stage’s 132 kilometers, giving Carlos Sainz a bit of respite. He stopped after his front right wishbone cracked and apparently asked for assistance in getting the car fixed.

As a result of the issue, his hopes for the ultimate triumph seem to be over after he lost a considerable amount of time.

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Loeb’s setback proved advantageous for his fellow countrymen Guerlain Chicherit (Toyota Hilux) and Mathieu Serradori (Century), who were battling for the top spot as the leading French participant in the overall rankings. In the virtual overall standings, the two stood apart by 37 seconds after 258 kilometers.

Loeb resumed the stage on his way to Yanbu after a break of over an hour. The Frenchman kept going and a spot on the championship podium is still up for grabs. He was only eight seconds ahead of Guillaume de Mevius (Toyota) in the virtual overall standings after 138 kilometers.

Once the race approached 258 kilometers, Sainz was ahead of Toyota’s Guillaume de Mevius and Romain Dumas by 2:04 and 2:21 minutes, respectively. There was only a little over thirty seconds separating Mathieu Serradori and Guerlain Chicherit in fourth and fifth place.

Sainz was still the fastest driver after 292 kilometers, but his advantage over Chicherit had dwindled to 1:09 minutes. The Audi driver was only one second ahead of the Toyota driver at the next checkpoint which came after 333 kilometers. Despite this, he was still celebrating his second stage win, which put him 5:32 minutes ahead of teammate Guillaume de Mevius and a double victory for his team.

Martin Prokop, driving an Orlen Jipocar Ford, finished ahead of Toyota trio Guy David Botterill, Giniel de Villiers and Benediktas Vanagas. Moraes hobbled home in his Toyota and fell from third to ninth in the overall rankings after losing more than two hours to the leaders. Century’s Mathieu Serradori rounded out the top ten.

The Dakar Rally comes to a finish tomorrow with Stage 12, where Sainz is predicted to win his fourth Dakar title over the comparatively easier 175km Yanbu round.

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