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Tuesday, Feb 27, 2024

Al-Attiyah wins Dakar 2023 Stage 5 to increase lead

Nasser Al-Attiyah has held off Audi’s power boost to win his second stage of the 2023 Dakar Rally and extend his overall lead to more than 22 minutes.
Sebastien Loeb’s bid for a second successive Dakar Rally stage win was frustrated by another late setback for Bahrain Raid Xtreme Thursday.

After a thrilling victory 24 hours earlier in his BRX Prodrive Hunter, Loeb was locked in an epic battle with Al Attiyah and Stephane Peterhansel on the 375km fifth stage, as all three held the lead at various points, with just seconds separating them.

But with just 20km remaining, Loeb and co-driver Fabian Lurquin came to a halt for 15 minutes with mechanical problems, and eventually finished ninth on the day, a meager reward for their contribution to another classic Dakar episode.

The Toyota driver Al-Attiyah was furious at a Balance of Performance tweak which gave cars in the T1.U class using renewable energies — effectively main rivals Audi — an additional 8kW which equates to 11bhp ahead of Thursday's stage, stating it would "kill the race early".

But on the 373km sand and dune-covered stage, the second loop around Hail, the defending Dakar Rally champion saw off attacks from Audi duo Peterhansel and Carlos Sainz Sr to take the stage win by 1m57s from Sainz.

After a fierce contest for the lead early on, Peterhansel headed the early running but Al-Attiyah attacked at the midway point and was ahead at the 234km checkpoint.

From there Al-Attiyah edged out his advantage to defend his lead to the finish from Sainz and Peterhansel, but the fight at the front lost Loeb around 18km from the end of the stage when the Bahrain Raid Xtreme driver rolled his car, which cost him over a quarter of an hour while trying to get going again.

Al-Attiyah duly clinched the stage victory ahead of Audi pair Sainz and Peterhansel, with Overdrive's Yazeed Al-Rajhi unable to keep pace at the front in fourth, close to nine minutes further back.

With Al-Attiyah extending his overall lead to 22m36s, it saw Peterhansel move up to second place and over four minutes ahead of Al-Rajhi. The Saudi Arabian driver will now be looking behind him with Sainz in fourth but less than eight minutes back.

Despite rarely being a contender at the sharp end, Toyota's Henk Lategan remains in fifth place overall, having finished the fifth stage in the same position, but is close to an hour off teammate and leader Al-Attiyah in the general classification.

Rookie car driver Lucas Moraes has also maintained his bright start to the event by keeping hold of sixth place for Overdrive by pulling out over three minutes on Toyota's Giniel de Villiers who remains in seventh place.

Mattias Ekstrom has kept hold of eighth place in the third Audi entry despite losing over 45 minutes on the stage, while Martin Prokop also endured a tough stage losing time but stays in ninth overall.

Two-time Le Mans 24 Hours winner Romain Dumas has popped into 10th for Rebellion as Overdrive's Erik van Loon suffered a technical problem 138km into the stage and duly lost a chunk of time.

Loeb's showings of pace have been undone by punctures and reliability woes, leaving him still 1hr53m41s off the outright lead and outside of the top 10.

Loeb said: “We had great speed today, genuine speed. In fact we were sure we up on the time after such a good run with the car. We started first and no one overtook us, but that stage was really rough, with a lot of camel grass meaning we took some big hits.

“If you are the first car opening the stage you still have to find the line. It’s very different to follow bike tracks over car tracks. Indeed towards the end of the stage I reckoned there were only 30 bikes in front of me.

“Then after a crest on a broken dune we had our moment as on the left there was a strange ‘hole’ and we hit that on the way up and it tipped us on our side. It was only 20 kms from the end, so it would’ve been good to have got that hat-trick (of stage wins) for the Prodrive Hunter.”

Guerlain Chicherit, stage winner on Tuesday with Alex Winocq in his Prodrive Hunter, produced a fine recovery from his loss of 90 minutes Wednesday to clock the fifth best time.

Also bouncing back strongly after being sent back to the bivouac Wednesday with suspension damper failure, Lithuanians Vaidotas Zala and Paulo Fiuza completed the top ten on the day in their Prodrive Hunter.

Loeb’s BRX teammate, Argentinian Orlando Terranova, withdrew overnight after being forced out of action Wednesday when an old back injury flared up, sending him back to the bivouac for a medical check-up.

It was a major disappointment for Terranova, who finished fourth on last year’s Dakar and had set the third fastest time on Tuesday.

Today’s action unfolded on a second successive stage looping around Hail, the focal point of all-terrain racing in Saudi, which presented a challenging route twisting through dunes and camel grass.

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