Sébastien Loeb took the lead in the Sonora Rally with a superb stage victory for Bahrain Raid Xtreme as Prodrive Hunters dominated second-day proceedings in Mexico.
Partnered by Fabian Lurquin in his BRX Prodrive Hunter, Loeb secured a 2 mins 45 secs victory on the 162-km second stage from overnight leader Nasser Al Attiyah to grab a slender three seconds overall advantage over his chief rival in the World Rally-Raid Championship.
The result means the nine-time World Rally Champion still has control in the WRRC title race, in which he led Al Attiyah by 16 points heading into the third round in Mexico.
It was a fantastic day for the Prodrive Hunters, which set four of the five fastest times on a stage guarded by giant cacti, and it could have been better.
Guerlain Chicherit and Alex Winocq, last year’s Rallye du Maroc winners, finished the day holding third place overall in their Hunter, despite losing front-wheel drive in the previous 45 kilometres to be fifth on the stage.
Brazilian brothers Marcos and Cristian Baumgart powered the two other Hunters to the third and fourth fastest times, securing top ten overall positions on only their second complete competitive stage in the car.
Loeb benefitted from a cautious approach early on as he plotted his path through the cacti, which left troublesome spikes in the spare tyres on the side of the Hunter, forcing the BRX technicians to handle with care at the bivouac.
“It was a good day, and we took the win for Bahrain Raid Xtreme and for Prodrive,” he said at the finish. “No problem at all. I tried to take a good pace from the start, even though the first kilometres were tricky and a bit dangerous, so I was a little cautious.
“But after that, it was a nice stage. Very narrow in some places, and not easy to get through the cactus with a big car, but in the end, we kept that pace right to the finish. We took the stage, so now we open tomorrow, but for today it’s a great result.”
Chicherit, who had set a scorching early pace, commented: “We had a good start, the speed was right there, and we were pushing until we stopped at the neutralisation.
“When we re-started, we lost the front wheel drive, so we did the last 45 km on rear wheel drive. We could not do anything but try not to lose too much at the end.”
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