The Dakar Rally can be the cruellest of all mistresses, with the lines between maximum gain and ultimate pain arguably finer than in any other motor sport on the planet. Even those with rallying embedded in their very DNA are not immune to the sandy wrath of the world’s definitive endurance test of man and machine.
That’s precisely what ex-WRC superstar Sébastien Loeb and long-term co-pilot Daniel Elena found out to their costs on day 10 of Dakar 2016. Leading for much of the first week, the Peugeot 2008 DKR crew headed the field into the second week of competition, blazing a trail through western Argentina’s sweeping desert plains.
However, disaster struck the nine-time WRC world champion in dramatic fashion as he led the way through the lower Andes region of Catamarca, close to the Chilean border. The normally unflappable Frenchman twice came unstuck on stage 8, firstly losing six minutes whilst bogged down in the sand at the midway point of the test. However, worse was soon to follow for Loeb who struck an obscured crevasse in a wide, fast flowing river and rolled his mammoth 2008 DKR just 10 kilometres from the finish. The damage report was a bleak one; a punctured radiator, two mangled rear wheels and a broken drive shaft left the 2008 in tatters. Incredibly Loeb and Elena were able to fix the car themselves and reach the final checkpoint, but with over 1h08m haemorrhaged, the French master must concede defeat in his maiden quest to add the Dakar trophy to his ample collection of rallying silverware.
The Peugeot squad can take solace in the fact they have a new man atop the overall standings. Loeb’s misfortune is Stéphane Peterhansel’s gain, as the experienced Frenchman and fellow 2008 pilot leapfrogs his compatriot to take control of the 2016 Dakar Rally. His lead is a slender one however, with just 2mins9s the gap to Peugeot teammate Carlos Sainz, who posted the second fasted time on stage 8 despite opening the road.
2015 champion Nasser Al-Attiyah kept his title defence alive with victory on the Salta to Belén leg. The Mini All 4 Racing team leader currently sits 14min43s adrift of the lead 2008 with teammate and Dakar debutant Mikko Hirvonen some 36mins further back in fourth overall. Loeb meanwhile tumbles to eighth, an hour behind the leading pack.
Day 11 of Dakar 2016 sees the crews make the relatively short hop south to La Rioja before turning their attentions eastwards for the final dash in the race to Rosario this weekend.