Paris – French veteran Sebastien Loeb powered to a fourth win of the 2019 Dakar Rally in the Peruvian dunes on Tuesday with Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah closing in on overall victory by coming second.
Despite a flat tyre at top speed in the opening kilometres, Peugeot’s Loeb clinched the San Juan de Marco to Pisco stage with a margin of 7:27 on the Qatari in his Toyota, with the Pole Jakub Przygonski third at 15:15.
Winner in 2011 and 2015, Al-Attiyah now stands 46 minutes ahead of second-placed Nani Roma of Spain with two stages to go.
The day’s big loser was another Frenchman, Stephane Peterhansel, who went into the race still hoping for victory but who emerged from the dunes saying he needed a miracle.
“Even if he got stuck in a dune he’d still have plenty of time after such a good race, he really has had a superb race,” Peterhansel said of the leader.
The Frenchman explained he had got off to a quick start but fell foul of a series of costly mishaps.
“When we got stuck the first time we lost probably around 10 minutes. After that, we continued to push a little bit, but I got stuck a second time, It was not a good day for us.”
Loeb was also pessimistic about the overall win with Wednesday’s penultimate Pisco-Pisco 409km marathon and Thursday’s final stage to Lima to come.
“We lost an hour and 20 minutes since the start with one incident or another, which leaves us in third place,” he said.
“This stage win doesn’t make up for it (being third), but it isn’t finished yet, it’s out of my hands but we shall carry on,” said Loeb.
Earlier, Toby Price seized the overall advantage in the bikes category as previous leader Ricky Brabec’s Honda suffered engine failure early on the eighth stage in Peru.
The 27-year-old Brabec held an eight-minute lead over Frenchman Adrien Van Beveren heading into the day, but his engine broke just 56 kilometres into the stage from San Juan de Marcona to Pisco.
KTM rider Matthias Walkner took stage victory as Price finished third on the day to top the standings.
Van Beveren missed the opportunity to claim the lead, losing more than 11 minutes to Walkner to slip to fifth overall.
Australian Price, the 2016 winner, leads Chile’s Pablo Quintanilla by 1:03, with Walkner over five minutes further back in third.
Brabec also pulled out of last year’s race with a broken engine on the 13th stage, having quit on the 10th stage in 2017.
He was bidding to become the first American in any category to win the Dakar.