France’s nine-time world rally champion Sebastien Loeb won the second stage of the Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia on Monday, a 338-kilometre drive from Ha’il to Qaisumah.
The 47-year-old timed 3min 28sec faster than Qatar’s three-time Dakar victor Nasser al-Attiyah.
Loeb remains in second spot overall after his 15th career stage win but having reduced the overall gap between himself and Al-Attiyah to just over nine minutes.
“It was a real match,” said Loeb. “At the end it became a World Rally Championship (WRC) special between two WRC drivers.
“I managed to claw back the difference little by little, without doubt because he (Al-Attiyah) had cleared the track.
“It’s easier when you are behind, so if I follow him, then I can follow easily; if he follows me if I overtake, he can follow easily. So I prefer for him to take the risks rather than me.”
Spain’s Joan Barreda Bort won the motorbike special with a 5min 33sec advantage over Britain’s Sam Sunderland. It was the Spaniard’s 28th career special stage win.
It was the perfect pick-me-up for Bort, who, had lost a lot of time in Sunday’s special.
“Today the only option was to push after the big mistake yesterday, but we are only on the second day,” he told the official race website.
“For sure, we will have lots of long days with difficult navigation.
“So, for me today was good to recover a good feeling. Riding on the dunes is always fun, so I tried to enjoy riding all the stage.”
Sunderland had the consolation of taking the overall lead ahead of Adrien Van Beveren of France with overnight leader Australian Daniel Sanders dropping to third overall.
“It’s always nice to lead the rally, but we’ve got a long way to go,” Sunderland told the race website.
The Dubai-based 32-year-old is bidding for a second win in the gruelling rally having become the first Briton to be crowned champion in either category in 2017, when it was raced in South America.
Sunderland says experience tells him an early overall lead counts for little.
“It doesn’t mean so much because we know this race,” he said.
“The navigation is so tricky and it looks like every day when the guys are opening they are losing a lot of time.
“There are so many long difficult days to come, I’m sure, so I’m sure there will be a lot more switching around, but of course it’s still good to lead and it shows that we are on point and on pace.”