Sebastien Loeb has explained the incident that ended what he believes will be his last ever Dakar Rally and left co-driver Daniel Elena injured.
Before the start of his third Dakar Rally, Loeb had hailed it as a ‘now or never’ chance to win the event given Peugeot is pulling out after the 2018 edition.
Loeb had led both his previous Dakar attempts, but this year was playing catch-up from the outset after brake problems on the short opening stage.
Back up to second following his stage four win, his rally ended on Wednesday when he landed in a hole while trying to avoid a car stuck on the crest of a sand dune.
His Peugeot buggy had to be pulled out of the crevice with a truck, costing Loeb almost three hours, and he then had to retire so Elena – who was in “severe pain in his sternum and coccyx” according to a team statement – could receive medical attention in the Arequipa bivouac.
“It was a very complicated start; the sand was very loose, the car just wouldn’t climb up the dunes, and we got stuck more or less straight away for 20 minutes or so,” Loeb said.
“Then when we got going again, we were able to follow the tracks from everyone else, and that helped a lot.
“We got to a place where there was another competitor stopped on a crest, and in order not to have to stop while we were climbing I went right to avoid him. but there was a hole just over the crest that we hadn’t seen. We hit it hard.
“There was nothing more we could do but wait for the truck to pull us out.
“Daniel was in a lot of pain from the impact. We even finished the stage really slowly, in order not to make the pain worse.
“Given Daniel’s injury, we were left with no option but to retire.”
Asked if he still felt this was his final chance to win Dakar, Loeb replied: “”Maybe, because at the moment I don’t plan to come back.
“I’ll continue with Peugeot in some other disciplines, in rallycross. So at the moment I don’t have the chance to win [Dakar].”
Loeb was not the only Peugeot driver to struggle in the deep sand across the fifth stage, with Carlos Sainz dropping 18 minutes to team-mate and leader Stephane Peterhansel after getting bogged down early on.
According to Peterhansel, fears of getting stuck himself meant he could not stop and help either of his team-mates.
“These dunes were the most difficult ones since the start of the rally,” he said.
“Seb and Carlos simply got stuck in the sand. Helping them was out of the question because we couldn’t get close. If you stop, you’re stuck for good!”
(By Sergio Lillo, Andrew van Leeuwen)