Loeb wins 4th Dakar stage in a row but Al-Attiyah in control
SHAYBAH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Nasser Al-Attiyah hung close to his pursuers in the vast expanse of dunes in southeast Saudi Arabia and closed in on his fifth Dakar Rally title on Thursday.
Al-Attiyah wasn’t possessive for a second straight day about the Empty Quarter that is considered his backyard. Instead, the Qatari eased to fifth on the 11th stage, the first 273 kilometers of a two-day marathon special in the desert.
He conceded less than seven minutes to Sebastien Loeb, who won a fourth consecutive stage and fifth in this Dakar after an early puncture. Loeb is only the fourth driver in the elite car category to win four successive specials, and first since Carlos Sainz in 2009.
Also finishing just seconds behind Brazilian rookie Lucas Moraes meant Al-Attiyah remained in control, more than 80 minutes ahead of Moraes, and more than 90 up on Loeb. Al-Attiyah’s Toyota teammate, Henk Lategan, was the only other driver within two hours.
“We don’t need to attack for nothing. We still have too many hours to do,” Al-Attiyah said. “Today, we just needed to finish. We need to control because there is no point really going crazy.”
Loeb took just under three hours to win the stage from Shaybah down to the Oman border, two minutes ahead of French compatriot Guerlain Chicherit.
Chicherit rebounded a day after hitting a huge hole, slamming his head and driving ill to the finish. Mattias Ekstrom was third and Moraes fourth.
American rider Skyler Howes regained the motorbike lead after finishing fourth on the stage with a minor fall.
His Husqvarna teammate Luciano Benavides won his third stage in the past week, beating Daniel Sanders and Toby Price by just under two minutes.
Kevin Benavides was 10th on the stage, more than six minutes back, dropping from first to third overall.
In the general standings, Howes led the KTMs of former champions Price, 28 seconds back, and Kevin Benavides, nearly three minutes back.
“It’s going to be tight going all the way in to the finish (on Sunday), which is super exciting,” Howes said.
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