2023 Dakar Rally: Loeb provides bright spot for Hunters with Stage 4 win

4 Mins read
Credit: Marcelo Maragni/Red Bull Content Pool

It has been a difficult Dakar Rally for the Prodrive Hunters as tyre failures and other similar misfortunes have marred their quartet of drivers throughout the race despite placing two on the T1 podium in the rain-shortened third stage. Matters seemed to worsen in the Stage #4 Ha’il loop as three suffered major issues, but Sébastien Loeb was able to buck the trend and escape with the win.

After finishing second in Stage #1, the 2022 runner-up seemed to have his luck run out across the next two legs with three blown tyres and a mechanical issue plaguing him. Although dropped down to twenty-sixth in the overall standings, Loeb held off the Audis of Stéphane Peterhansel and Carlos Sainz for the T1 victory. He beat Peterhansel by thirteen seconds, but even this did not go without a hitch as he lost his power steering in the closing run.

“That’s great to take the stage again on the Dakar. It’s a great feeling as it proves we have the speed with the Hunter,” said Loeb. “We pushed really hard from the start to the end of the stage as the car was going well. Everything was good. About eighty kilometres from the end of the stage, I felt the power steering tighten a little but then twenty kilometres from the end it went so we had to be quite a bit slower in the dunes to the finish, but we did what we could and it worked. We’re happy to be on the top step today.”

The full-distance win provides some much-needed relief for the Hunters. Orlando Terranova, Loeb’s partner at Bahrain Raid Xtreme who finished third in Stage #3, retired from the Rally altogether after aggravating a lower back injury he sustained in a hard landing during Tuesday’s stage. Vaidotas Žala suffered from oil leakage in his Hunter’s two right-rear shock absorbers, while Stage #3 winner Guerlain Chicherit had a broken rear suspension arm just nine minutes into the fourth followed by losing power steering.

The 2023 Dakar Rally has proven to be more attrition-heavy than previous editions in Saudi Arabia, and this continued to be evident beyond the Hunters’ bad luck. Bike team Hero MotoSports was particularly hit hard on Wednesday as Franco Caimi was their lone rider of four to not have any problems en route to a seventeenth-place finish; Joaquim Rodrigues fell off his bike after ninety kilometres and broke his left femur, requiring a medical airlift, while Ross Branch and Stage #2 runner-up Sebastian Bühler respectively suffered a mechanical failure and ran out of fuel. T1 driver Benediktas Vanagas also withdrew mid-race for medical attention due to concussion-like symptoms. Harith Noah (RallyGP) and Kyle McCoy (Malle Moto) respectively suffered a thoracic spine fracture and broken leg during the stage and withdrew to undergo surgery.

“I’m feeling much better now at the hospital, and will be undergoing a surgery,” commented Rodrigues. “I thank all our fans and partners for the concern and support, and I hope to be back in action soon.”

Marek Goczał, the T4 winner in Stage #1, did not even make it out of the first sector without trouble after a bizarre incident involving fellow SSV driver David Zille‘s car. While ascending up a dune, Goczał realised his climbing angle was too sharp—which risked rolling him over—and attempted to abort the run and try again, only to run into into Zille’s path and end in a head-on collision. Neither driver was unharmed in the accident and Goczał, dealing with a damaged steering arm, managed to finish the stage. Goczał’s son Eryk was more fortunate as he went on to claim his second stage win with Marek’s brother Michal in third.

In the Bikes, Joan Barreda won his thirtieth career stage despite nursing a broken left big toe that he received in Stage #2. Mason Klein was poised to take the victory before water got mixed with gas in his fuel tank while refuelling and caused his bike to break down with twenty kilometres to the finish. Fuel cell trouble also befell the previous stage’s Malle Moto winner Mike Wiedemann when it sprung a leak, leading to a misadventure upon running out of gas: after twenty minutes of waiting, good friend and Rally2 rider Mathieu Troquier arrived and provided him with two litres of fuel; when he ran out again, he did so near Branch who had asked local spectators to fetch additional gas for them; another bike failure forced Wiedemann to disassemble his bike, during which he encountered a pair of fans watching and paid them €50 to buy some for him; the bike shut down for good after the fuel mixed with water that had gotten into the tank. Wiedemann ultimately elected not to continue the race.

With Klein out of the picture, José Ignacio Cornejo was initially deemed the winner after officials awarded him 25:55 in time credit for attending to Rodrigues until help arrived, but a revised calculation ruled he had only lost seven minutes and thirty-five seconds total, leaving him a still-solid ninth.

“I was going well but then at around kilometre 90 I had to stop and help Portuguese rider Joaquim Rodrigues,” explained Cornejo. “He had a severe crash and I had to call medical help. After this, it took me a while to get back on track and find my rhythm back, but I am glad I did it anyway. That is part of the solidary Dakar spirit.”

Stage #4 winners

T1201Sébastien LoebBahrain Raid Xtreme4:11:34
T2246Akira Miura*Team Land Cruiser Toyota Auto Body7:13:00
T3314Mitch GuthrieRed Bull Off-Road Junior Team5:01:55
T4428Eryk GoczałEnergyLandia Rally Team5:18:14
T5501Martin Macík Jr.MM Technology5:10:23
RallyGP5Joan Barreda*Monster Energy JB Team4:28:18
Rally217Romain DumontierTeam Dumontier Racing4:47:09
Malle Moto99Javi Vega*Pont Grup Yamaha5:22:53
Quad151Alexandre Giroud*Drag’on Rally Team5:52:17
Classic748Luis Pedrals Marot*TH-Trucks Team28 points
* – Not competing in World Rally-Raid Championship

Leaders after Stage #4

T1200Nasser Al-AttiyahToyota Gazoo Racing16:34:13
T2250Ronald Basso*Team Land Cruiser Toyota Auto Body9:45:19
T3314Mitch GuthrieRed Bull Off-Road Junior Team18:59:47
T4406Rodrigo Luppi de OliveiraSouth Racing Can-Am20:05:55
T5508Aleš Loprais*InstaForex Loprais Praga19:29:21
RallyGP18Daniel SandersRed Bull GasGas Factory Racing6:40:03
Rally246Paolo LucciBAS World KTM Racing Team19:51:19
Malle Moto40Charan Moore*HT Rally Raid Husqvarna Racing22:11:49
Quad151Alexandre Giroud*Drag’on Rally Team22:49:35
Classic778Juan Morera*Toyota Classic155 points

Official stage highlights

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