Nine-time World Rally champion Sebastien Loeb has revealed how a series of navigational errors and punctures left him 24 minutes behind leader Carlos Sainz after the opening stage of the 2021 Dakar Rally.
After a one-year hiatus, Loeb has returned to the Dakar in 2021 to spearhead the new Prodrive-run Bahrain Raid Xtreme team alongside long-time co-driver Daniel Elena.
But the Frenchman’s campaign got off to a horrific start in the 277km special between Jeddah and Bisha, with the 46-year-old getting lost twice in the opening 37km stretch and losing nearly 15 minutes to his rivals.
Loeb’s misery was compounded by three separate punctures over the rest of the stage, leaving him down in 22nd place in the overall classifications and 12 minutes off a top 10 spot.
Asked by Motorsport.com to sum up his day, Loeb, who is chasing a maiden victory in Dakar in his fifth attempt, said: “Our strategy was to attack from the start and recover some time, but after 15kms we were lost.
“We started to go up and down looking for the right way for 15 minutes. We were kind of stuck on a mountain path when we had the intuition to do a U-turn and start again. It was kind of frustrating, but it paid off.
“As we found the right path, we were in the dust of the other cars. It was complicated so we got lost a second time. I think it was Stephane [Peterhansel] who passed us. He had started 14th and we 10th!
“I was quite surprised by the first two punctures because we were driving quite smoothly compared to the pace I had on the [Peugeot] buggy I used to drive on the Dakar in South America. So I went even smoother, but we got a third puncture 80km further. The terrain was risky with huge rocks on the way.
“Honestly, it was very tough for almost three hours, but considering all the problems we had, we didn’t lose too much time. I was expecting a delay of an hour. All in all, it was tough.”
Loeb’s former WRC teammate Sainz picked up where he left off in 2020, topping the opening stage by a slender margin of 25 seconds from Stephane Peterhansel to establish an early X-Raid Mini 1-2.
2014 event winner Nani Roma finished sixth in the other BRX entry, over nine minutes behind leader Sainz but well clear of the lead factory Toyota of Giniel de Villiers, who finished two places behind in eighth.
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