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Dakar 2024: “It’s not normal if we want to win the Dakar”, Sébastien Loeb, the curse of the sands

Two weeks of racing in the desert, the dunes and the stones, with its joys, its misfortunes.

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Dakar 2024: “It’s not normal if we want to win the Dakar”, Sébastien Loeb, the curse of the sands

Two weeks of racing in the desert, the dunes and the stones, with its joys, its misfortunes. The Dakar-2024 has just crowned its winners and one driver has still not managed to add his name to the list: Sébastien Loeb.

“The Dakar is my main objective,” assured the Alsatian at dawn from the Al-Ula bivouac. The “Poulidor of the Dakar”, “Loeb the Accursed”, so many nicknames which describe a situation which has lasted since his first participation.

At the start of the penultimate stage of this 46th edition - concluded on Friday with the triumph for the fourth time since 2010 of Spanish veteran Carlos Sainz, 61 years old -, Loeb could still believe it. But on Thursday, his mechanical problems in the “toughest stage of the second week” once again deprived him of the coronation in the legendary rally-raid event.

Upon arrival in Yanbu on Friday, Carlos “El Matador” Sainz approached his last rival for the coronation, taking him in his arms and whispering in his ear: “You were unlucky.” Alas, Loeb finally finished third for his eighth participation in the Dakar, as in 2019. But less well than in 2017, 2022 and 2023, when he finished second.

The nine-time WRC world rally champion between 2004 and 2012 - where Sainz has "only" two (1990, 1992) - was still able to prove that he had become a formidable rally-raid driver with his 28 stage victories, including six in a row gleaned last year, a record. This year he won five stages, compared to none for Sainz. Loeb is aware of the diagnosis: “We often had mechanical problems which caused us to lose time, sometimes stupid things on my part, also navigation errors. And every year I got one of three.”

For the 2024 edition, the Alsatian estimates having lost at least two hours with a combo of three factors: twisted right front triangle during the 11th stage, navigation error on the 8th and a shaky strategy during the 5th.

The five-time Qatari winner of the Dakar and new teammate of Loeb this year at Prodrive, Nasser al-Attiyah, threw in the towel during the 9th stage after numerous mechanical problems since the start of the rally-raid, including a breakdown engine.

“The car has not been running all year, no development or sufficient investment to make it evolve, we see that they have had the same breakdowns for two years, this is not normal if we want to win the Dakar” , deciphers the boss of the event David Castera.

Sébastien Loeb himself admitted that the car's weak points had been known since last year. “We know that it is fragile on certain points, the team's goal was to optimize it to work on the next one. It's in progress. Today it is a high-performance car but one that does not tolerate mistakes,” he says.

According to David Castera, Prodrive therefore has a major role in the Frenchman's poor performance. “It was a lack of seriousness on the part of the team that caused Sébastien to lose. The team is not structured at all and has not given itself the means. The fact that Dacia comes behind will do a lot of good,” said the race director.

Sébastien Loeb will be part of the Dacia team from Dakar-2025, alongside Nasser Al-Attiyah. Their prototype will be prepared by Prodrive and tested at the end of 2024 at the Rallye du Maroc. Between them, the mayonnaise has not yet set. Both drivers had assured that they would help each other if one of them was out of the game.

The opportunity presented itself, the Qatari assured that he would help Loeb but he threw in the towel while the Frenchman would have appreciated having a teammate to counter the strategy of the Audis who were escorting their champion. “I had no chance against three Audis driving together, it was dead. It's just a story of survival. Carlos (Sainz) is dying, he doesn't care, he's waiting for the next one. He was covered. Only me in there...,” the Frenchman cursed Thursday evening, when his last hopes of overcoming the curse had vanished.

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