Sebastien Loeb took stage four of the Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday as home favourite Yazeed Al Rajhi stretched his overall lead in the car category.
Nine-times world rally champion Loeb, racing a Prodrive Hunter for the Bahrain Raid Xtreme team, finished the 299-km stage from Al Salamiya to the oasis city of Al Hofuf one minute and eight seconds faster than Toyota’s Al Rajhi.
Qatar’s reigning champion Nasser Al-Attiyah, who had held a comfortable lead at the penultimate checkpoint, was third fastest in another Prodrive Hunter and moved up to third overall from fifth.
Al Rajhi now leads Audi’s Spanish triple Dakar winner Carlos Sainz, fourth in Tuesday’s stage, by four minutes and 29 seconds.
Loeb moved up to sixth overall from ninth, 23 minutes and 50 seconds off the lead, after the 49-year-old’s 24th career Dakar stage win and first this year.
The Frenchman was also the fifth different stage winner, including the prologue, in as many days.
“We did a clean stage. We were a bit in the dust for sure, because we started far back and we had to overtake a lot of cars,” said Loeb.
“At one point we missed a waypoint and had to go back for about 30 seconds, but for the rest we did a very good stage, so no problems.”
Toyota’s American driver Seth Quintero hit trouble early in the stage, stopping with mechanical issues after 81km and requiring assistance that dropped him hours behind.
In the motorcycle category, Chilean Jose Ignacio ‘Nacho’ Cornejo took over at the top after his second stage win of this year’s event.
Botswana’s overnight leader Ross Branch reached the finish with twisted handlebars on his Hero machine and losing nearly four-and-a-half minutes to Cornejo, who leads him by a minute and 15 seconds.
“I thought I’d try bent-style handlebars today.
No, really it was a rough day for me, one of the days I’d rather forget. I crashed after 40 km just trying to look at the roadbook and I hit a rock,” said Branch.
“Then I crashed again 20 km before the finish just going into the dunes. There was a bit of camel grass hidden in the sand and that threw me over the handlebars. But I’m OK, the bike is repairable.”
American Ricky Brabec was third overall after finishing second in the stage.