DAMMAM, Saudi Arabia – Sebastien Loeb is widely regarded as the greatest rally driver. Nine times world champion.
In a rally raid where the Dakar is the biggest test, Loeb will bow to world rally raid champion and Dakar winner Nasser Al-Attiyah for the fifth time on Sunday.
Ahead of the final race in Saudi Arabia, Loeb wished he had Al-Attiyah’s ability to read terrain, identify problem areas and an enviable amount of desert experience.
â€œTo beat them you have to have a perfect race,â€ said Loeb.
No one else could avoid trouble like Al-Attiyah and French co-driver Mathieu Baumel in theirs Toyota. In nine Dakars together they have won four, finished second four and retired once.
Al-Attiyah has led the Dakar for the last 13 days of 15, beating Loeb by 80 minutes – the widest margin in 20 years – but it wasn’t comfortable for the Qatari until his three closest pursuers were effectively eliminated at stage six .
Stephane Peterhansel, Yazeed Al Rajhi and Carlos Sainz, the only riders within 55 minutes of Al-Attiyah, crashed just a few kilometers apart. Peterhansel’s co-driver Edouard Boulanger was hospitalized with a back injury. Al Rajhi and Sainz were stuck for hours.
Sainz held out until a second crash on stage ninth, which was overshadowed by a spectator who died from injuries after being hit by one truck competitor. It was the fifth fatality at the Dakar since moving to Saudi Arabia in 2020.
Local rider Al Rajhi, third last year, was 37th, 37 hours behind Al-Attiyah.
Al-Attiyah’s lead grew to over an hour and he didn’t have to push hard anymore.
“We didn’t have to attack like crazy,” he said. â€œWe managed to get through the second week and win, thatâ€™s what really matters. I’m very happy to have won five times and Mathieu four times. . . Sorry Mathieu!â€
His fifth Dakar title ousted Ari Vatanen to finish second only to Peterhansel, the greatest champion of the Dakar with 14 victories, including eight in the best car category.
Loeb was left to win six consecutive stages, a record for an elite motorist, and seven overall, the most since Sainz in 2011. Loeb finished second for the second consecutive year and third.
Lucas Moraes of Brazil was an impressive third, the first rookie on the podium in 35 years. He was 98 minutes behind but almost an hour from fourth.
Argentine rider Kevin Benavides won his second motorcycle title by batting KTM Teammate Toby Price by 43 seconds after more than 4,000 kilometers in the closest finish in the history of the rally.
They were the last riders to start the 136km stage 14 on the coast east of Al-Hofuf.
â€œMy mind was blank this morning except for every kilometer of the stage, from 0 to 136,â€ said Benvavides. “To be able to win with such a small margin at the end of this completely crazy Dakar is unbelievable. I’m also the first to win with two different brands of bikes and that makes me very proud.”
Benavides, who was a total of 12 seconds behind Price, erased that at the first checkpoint. At half-time he was nearly two minutes ahead as the two-time Australian champions missed two checkpoints and had to turn around. Price came back but Benavides won the stage by 55 seconds.
He won in 2021 and was in the race last year until his engine blew up on stage 10. Like Al-Attiyah, he was in the top three from Stage 3 but made his biggest push on Saturday after stopping to help ailing teammate Matthias Walkner. the champion 2018.
Skyler Howes, the American who led the class for six days, finished third on his first podium finish, five minutes back.
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