Sebastien Loeb felt there was no alternative but to retire from the Dakar Rally after co-driver Daniel Elena was injured after the Peugeot Sport duo crashed into a hole early on during Wednesday’s fifth stage between San Juan de Marcona and Arequipa.
The Frenchman, who had taken the stage victory during Tuesday’s fourth stage and was first car onto the fifth stage as a result, had earlier lost around twenty minutes after getting stuck in a sand dune, but the crash and heavy landing into the hole, that was unseen by both, resulted in Elena struggling with the pain, and Loeb drove to the bivouac at the end of the stage slowly to avoid putting his co-driver under too much duress.
“It was a very complicated start: the sand was very loose, the car just wouldn’t climb up the dunes, and we got stuck more or less straight away for 20 minutes or so,” said Loeb. “Then when we got going again, we were able to follow the tracks from everyone else, and that helped a lot.
“We got to a place where there was another competitor stopped on a crest: in order not to have to stop while we were climbing I went right to avoid him…but there was a hole just over the crest that we hadn’t seen. We hit it hard.
“There was nothing more we could do but wait for the truck to pull us out. Daniel was in a lot of pain from the impact. We even finished the stage really slowly, in order not to make the pain worse. Given Daniel’s injury, we were left with no option but to retire.”
Elena was disappointed to see the chances of a first Dakar victory disappear due to his injury, particularly as they had climbed up into second place thanks to their stage four win, but the pain and the terrain were just too much for the Spaniard.
“We fell into a soft bowl of sand that we just didn’t see,” said Elena. “It was a big impact.
“I immediately felt a sharp pain in my sternum and coccyx which didn’t go away. I was in so much pain that we had to finish the stage in slow motion. I had to stretch myself out in my seat just to avoid the pain of sitting down.
“Usually, I do not give up, but I really don’t feel I can continue on terrain where there are so many compressions.”