2023 Dakar Rally Stage 10 & 11
Quick Facts: Haradh > Shaybah – 624 km in total
114 km Special 510 km Liaison
It's the shortest Special Stage of the rally but with a twist. We're deep inside the Empty Quarter. A barren landscape of just desert, containing more than 90% of pure dunes. That's a lot of sand. Carlos Sainz's hopes of starting the stage after the previous stage heroics were left to none as the team discovered that the chassis was damaged beyond repair, meaning that El Matador needed to retire from the race. That is unfortunate news for Audi and the Spaniard.
Nasser Al-Attiyah remained within striking distance, finishing P4 for the day behind Luza Moraes and Timo Gottschalk in another Hilux in P3. The South African-built contingency of Hiluxes pushed forward. The rookie pair have impressed with their first outing, which is a sign of good things to come. It wasn't all doom and gloom for Audi, as Mattias Ekstrom and Emil Bergkvist claimed P2 for the day in the Audi RSQ e-Tron.
Once more, Sebastien Loeb takes the stage win and completes a hat-trick of stage wins as the travelling circus of off-road machines snake through the Empty Quarter. For Al-Attiyah, it's business as usual, but Loeb's hopes of catching him are starting to fade.
Stage 11 – The cat-and-mouse game continues… Loeb claims a fourth stage win.
Quick Facts: Shaybah > Empty Quarter Marathon 427 km in total
274 km Special 153 km Liaison
Dunes, dunes and more dunes. The Empty Quarter unleashed its full beauty as Sebastien Loeb chased Al-Attiyah down, but this is home for the Qatari, who would continue to consolidate his chances of a Dakar victory after losing 6 minutes of his overall lead that amounts to over an hour, finishing in P5 for the day. Even with Loeb's fourth stage win in a row, his efforts would, unfortunately, be a consolation prize for the Frenchman in pursuit of all-out glory. Those earlier opening days came back to haunt him.
Nasser Al-Attiyah proved that he was becoming the new Dakar king, controlling the rally in such a fashion, and Loeb seemingly only relied on an own-goal from Al-Attiyah, which, together with his navigator, Mathieu Baumel, seemed highly unlikely at this point.
It was further face saved by Audi as Mattias Ekstrom and Emil Bergkvist took to the dunes with great confidence, placing their Audi in another P3 for the day. Sebastien Loeb would go on to win the stage once more, even after stopping for a puncture repair. The Swede was well out of his Scandinavian comfort zone but equally at home in the harsh desert. Unfortunately, his efforts were insufficient to topple Guerlain Chicherit and Alex Winocq, who secured P2 for the day in his Prodrive Hunter.
The end of stage 11 would mean that teams cannot work on the cars after the route back through the Empty Quarter. This placed excess demands on the driving style for the day under these conditions, and a steady hand is needed with any gamble coming with a hefty price tag. The following two stages would impact the outcome of the race. Maintain here, and you're in for a shot. Make a mistake, and you'll be punished harshly.
Nasser Al-Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel lead overall, with Luza Moraes and Timo Gottschalk following in P2 and Loeb in P3, 9 minutes behind them. The second half of the Empty Quarter Marathon Stage now awaits but will Al-Attiyah fumble and be caught? At this stage, it's proving less and less likely. Henk Lategan and Brett Cummings sit in fourth overall, with Giniel De Villiers and Dennis Murphy in fifth.
Words: Brent vd Schyff