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MECHANICAL issues, navigation skills and challenging drivingconditions will not deter the Bahrain Raid Xtreme dream teams from conqueringthe Dakar Rally, writes Mai Al Khatib-Camille.
Nine-time World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb and two-timeDakar Rally winner Nani Roma have been enduring gruelling driving in the SaudiArabian 12-stage extreme off-road race – taking on rocky tracks, vast opendesert, tall camel grass and steep, uncompromising sand dunes.
The rally also tested the navigation skills of their co-driversand both teams have been impressed by the Hunter vehicles’ capabilities.
Roma said, “So far, I think we have had a good rally. Eachday Alex Winocq and I work better together, and we are really enjoying it.
“The stages are challenging, but that is Dakar and that iscross country rallying. Of course, the navigation has been difficult, and thisis something we will try to work on for the second half of the Dakar. TheHunter has been amazing – it is the first time the car has competed in the desertand the performance is very good.”
The team had a rest day in Ha’il, which was stage six,before facing the first part of the marathon stage (stage seven) earlier in theweek.
The marathon stage is a unique aspect of the Dakar Rally.Split over two stages on consecutive days, the drivers are without the safetynet of their assistance teams, and any vehicle repairs or maintenance will haveto be completed by the drivers and co-drivers themselves.
Leaving Ha’il, Loeb and Roma had 737km of driving; 284km of roadand 453km of special stage, making their way to Sakaka.
The rest of the Bahrain Raid Xtreme team headed to Neom,where the drivers would reconvene ahead of stage eight.
Roma finished in Sakaka in 10th with a time of 04:44:52,+22:53 behind the leader. The Spaniard is currently 5th overall, +1:59:00behind the leader.
Roma, in the #311 Hunter, said, “The stage was not easy inthe beginning; the sand was super soft in areas, so the fuel consumption washigh. There was some tricky navigation and a puncture to deal with. But thingsare positive, the car is in good shape, and we are ready for the mountainstage. Alex and I are going to work on the car and prepare for the next day.”
Meanwhile, Loeb bounced back after a challenging day duringstage six, showing the skill that has made him so synonymous with rallydriving.
However, 30km from the finish, a mechanical issue forced himand his co-driver Daniel Elena to stop for repairs, costing the pair time.
Arriving in Sakaka after more than six hours of driving, the#305 Hunter finished the day in 42nd, more than an hour behind the leader. Thisleaves Loeb in 41st, with an overall rally time of more than 40 hours, morethan 13 hours behind the leader.
Loeb said, “It was another complicated day for us. We startedwith a good rhythm, but the start of the stage had some rough terrain, and wegot a puncture and then damage to our jack. After that we were going well untilthe end of the stage, when we broke a wheelbearing. But we completed the firstpart of the marathon stage; we will work on the car and be ready to go again.”
The second half of the marathon stage takes the drivers fromSakaka to Neom, covering 709km, with 344km of road and 375km of special stagedriving.
The rally will conclude on January 15.
*Today, the Bahrain Raid Xtreme teams will be taking onstage 10, driving from Neom to AlUla. In this stage, while the hilly areas arebreath-taking, the sandy tracks will require a lot of navigating.
For details on the rally and the team, visit www.dakar.comand https://www.bahrainraidxtreme.com/