New Rally Leader after Loeb hits trouble



There was drama for Team Peugeot Total on the ninth stage of the Silk Way Rally as Sebastien Loeb crashed out of the lead while holding an advantage of more than an hour in the Peugeot DKR Maxi. The day had already got off to a difficult start when a wrong timing plan for the road section meant that the entire field began the 421-kilometre stage 40 minutes late. When Loeb’s accident happened, he was running parallel to the dry river bed that formed the main part of the route, as the surface of it was extremely rough and cut up. Unfortunately, Loeb hit a drain just to the right of the river bed at kilometre 82, which tripped him over and badly damaged the front of the car. Eventually, Loeb and co-driver Daniel Elena were able to repair the car to the point where it could be driven, but the fix took any hour and a half. With the chassis and cockpit cell badly affected, the French duo had to stop again at kilometre 172. At the time of writing, they had yet to complete the stage. Whatever happens, this means that Cyril Despres has taken the lead of the event that he won last year. There were no major problems for him or his team mate Stephane Peterhansel throughout today’s action, which was characterized by both sand and rocky roads. Peterhansel was the stage winner as he continues his fightback up the leaderboard in seventh position overall.

Bruno FAMIN, Peugeot Sport Director
“At the moment, we don’t know much about the situation with Seb apart from the fact that he still has a long way to go and that the car is very damaged. It’s only once he’s back in the bivouac that we’ll be able to carry out a full assessment. In any case, what’s happened is just part of the competition; exactly the sort of thing that can occur on a rally as challenging as this one. Looking on the positive side, we still have a Peugeot in front thanks to Cyril and another stage win thanks to Stephane. We’ve seen that anything can happen though and with just one car out in front, it’s going to feel like a very long way to the end in Xi’an. The stages this week are particularly tough, so I wouldn’t like to make any predictions.”

Cyril DESPRES, Team Peugeot Total Driver 5th of stage 9 / 1st overall
“It was a really rough stage in every sense of the word, with drainage ditches, bumps, broken up river beds…really everything. We got shaken around a lot, and when we saw what it was like we decided that there was no point in taking any risks. It’s also difficult to stay focused when you see your teammates hitting troubles. We still had a good pace and we were up there, although we also got slightly lost at one point and actually met Stephane while we were trying to get back. Now we’re in the lead, but it’s not going to change our approach too much, we just have to keep on driving sensibly.”

Stéphane PETERHANSEL, Team Peugeot Total Driver 1st of stage 9 / 7th overall (cars)
“Today was completely different to what we had in the first part of the rally; there was lots of off-road driving away from the tracks; not quite like the rallies in Africa but with the same sort of typical traps that can catch you out in a similar way. It’s a real shame what happened to Seb, he paid a heavy price, but that’s rally raid for you. Now I have to concentrate on trying to help Cyril to win and sticking close to him. It’s strange: you can start off with three cars that are strong but now there’s only one left in contention; that’s absolutely normal in this sport.”

Tomorrow the drivers make their way from Hami to Dunhuang, covering 517 kilometres throughout the leg, via a 360-kilometre stage. The start of the stage is extremely fast, then the route becomes slower and more technical, with several changes in direction. The navigation is very difficult towards the end of the stage, which runs alongside a salt lake.