Sebastien Loeb was thwarted in his bid to give Bahrain Raid Xtreme a memorable victory in the Rallye du Maroc when he ran out of luck after a brilliant surge today in the final round of the World Rally-Raid Championship.
Partnered by Fabian Lurquin in his BRX Prodrive Hunter, Loeb set a scorching pace to lead the rally’s penultimate stage well past the halfway point, in the process taking a remarkable 5mins 52 secs off Nasser Al Attiyah, to move within 29 seconds of the Qatari’s overall lead.
With a stage win and another outright rally success in his sights, the challenge of the nine-time World Rally Champion ended when his car slid into a ditch after 230km.
More drama followed when Al Attiyah’s Toyota stopped in the dunes, leaving the championship leader and defending champion trying to repair the car with co-driver Mathieu Baumel 11 km from the finish.
Stéphane Peterhansel in an Audi won the 343 km stage from Zagora to Merzouga from Orly Terranova and Bernardo Graue in the other BRX Prodrive Hunter, who continued their recovery from a second-stage suspension problem with a superb drive to clock the second-best time.
Fifth place on the day was enough to establish Saudi Arabia‘s Yazeed Al Rajhi in a Toyota as the new rally leader, and he goes into tomorrow’s final leg holding a 3 mins 49 secs advantage over Peterhansel.
After podium finishes on the first three days, Loeb and the Prodive Hunter were in their element on the most beautiful, varied and challenging stage of the rally, winding through camel grass for 10kms before a rocky section and a finish among the dunes of Merzouga.
The seemingly impossible mission to wipe out Al Attiyah’s 6 mins 16 secs overnight had become a probability at the halfway point before the rugged Moroccan desert terrain had its say.
The other major casualty on the day was Spain’s Carlos Sainz, who came to a complete standstill in the dunes soon after Al Attiyah’s problem while leading the stage.
The rally concludes tomorrow afternoon following a 152km stage starting and finishing in Merzouga.
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