DAMAN, Saudi Arabia — Sebastien Loeb is widely regarded as the greatest rally driver of all time. Nine times world champion.

In rallying, the Dakar is the biggest test and Loeb bowed to world rally champion and Dakar champion Nasser Al-Attiyah for the fifth time on Sunday.

Ahead of the latest game in Saudi Arabia, Loeb wished he had Al-Attiyah’s ability to read the terrain, sense problem areas and enviable desert experience.

“To beat them, you have to have a perfect game,” Loeb said.

No one avoided trouble quite like Al-Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel, the French co-driver in the Toyota. In nine Dakar races, they have won four times, finished runners-up four times and been dropped once.

Al-Attiyah led Dakar in the final 13 of 15 and beat Loeb by 80 minutes – the biggest gap in 20 years – but it wasn’t until his three biggest chasers came together in the sixth The Qataris were uncomfortable until Duan was effectively eliminated.

Stephane Peterhansel, Yazeed Al Rajhi and Carlos Sainz were the only drivers within a 55-minute drive of Al-Attiyah to crash within a few kilometers of each other. Edouard Boulanger, Peterhansel’s co-pilot, was taken to hospital with a back injury. Al Rajhi and Sainz were trapped for several hours.

Sainz held on until a second crash on stage nine, overshadowing a spectator who died from his injuries after being hit by a truck rival. It was the fifth fatality in Dakar since its move to Saudi Arabia in 2020.

Last year’s third-placed local driver Al Rajhi finished 37th, 37 hours behind Al-Attiyah.

Al-Attiyah’s lead stretched to over an hour, and he no longer had to push hard.

“We don’t have to go crazy on offense,” he said. “We made it through the second week and got the win, that’s what really matters. I’m happy to win five times and Matthew four. . . sorry Matthew!”

His fifth Dakar title surpasses Ari Vatanen and is second only to Peterhansel, the Dakar’s greatest winner with 14 victories, eight of them in the top car category.

Loeb is left with six consecutive stage wins, a record for an elite driver, and a total of seven stages, the most since Sainz in 2011. Loeb was runner-up for the second and third consecutive years.

An impressive third was Brazil’s Lucas Moraes, the first rookie to reach the podium in 35 years. He was 98 minutes behind but nearly an hour ahead of fourth.

Argentinian Kevin Benavides beat KTM teammate Toby Price by 43 seconds to claim his second moto title, finishing Over 4,000 kilometers and the closest finish in rally history.

They are the last riders to start the 136km stage 14 on the coast east of Hofuf.

“This morning, apart from every kilometer of the stage, from 0 to 136, my mind was blank,” said Benvavides. “It was incredible to win at the end of this totally crazy Dakar with such a small margin. I was also the first to win on two different motorcycle brands, which makes me very proud.”

Benavides finished 12 seconds behind Price overall, knocking him out at the first checkpoint. At the halfway point he had a lead of almost two minutes as the two-time Australian champion missed two checkpoints and had to make a U-turn. Price came back, but Benavidez won the stage by 55 seconds.

He won in 2021 and raced last year’s race until his engine blew up on Stage 10. Like Al-Attiyah, he moved into the top three from stage three, but made the most progress to the 2018 champion after stopping to help stricken teammate Matthias Walkner on Saturday.

American Schuylerhouse, who led the class for six straight days, finished third five minutes behind on his first podium.


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