Nasser Al-Attiyah takes a big lead over Sébastien Loeb heading into the Dakar finale

SHAYBAH, SAUDI ARABIA — Nasser Al-Attiyah came out of Saudi Arabia’s empty quarters buffered with a huge one-and-a-half hour lead. Dakar Rally.

Sébastien Loeb won his fifth consecutive rare stage on Friday to finish second overall. However, he was 1 hour and 27 minutes ahead of Al-Attiyah.

Brazil’s Lucas Moraes drove in his first Dakar and was one minute behind third place two stages to finish on Sunday in Dammam.

“If we can finish in the top five every day, that’s fine, we have a good lead,” Al-Attiyah said.

The titleholder didn’t want to race too hard despite finishing third on the 12th stage, the second part of the Marathon Special which returns to Sheiba from the Omani border. At 185 km, Al-Attiyah was just over three minutes behind Loeb.

Loeb became the second driver, after Ari Vatanen in 1989, to win five in a row in the Elite Car category. Matthias Ekström was second with him over three minutes behind him.

It was a perfect day. No misses, no stalls, no turns,” Loeb said. “Second place is our target and that is why we are pushing. We made a big comeback. But then Carlos (Sainz), Stephane (Petehansel) and Yazid (Alraj), three excellent drivers, were left out of the equation, so from that point on I was aiming for second place.”

Two-time champion Toby Price perfectly timed his move up to bike lead.

He was third on the stage behind Nacho Cornejo, who beat Daniel Saunders by 49 seconds.

Price took the top spot in the overall standings with a 28-second lead over Skyler Howes, thanks in part to bonus time after clearing the road.

Outside of three stages, Price is in the top three overall. His Dakar wins in 2016 and his 2019 were both in South America.

“Trying to strategize for the race at this point is completely out of the window,” Price said. “I just have to stay on the bike and stay healthy. Tomorrow I’ll try to push really hard…but I don’t want to push too crazy and risk injury or dropping out of the race. No. We are so close to the finish line.”

Chasing his first Dakar title, Howes regretted the seconds he had to stop to pack his tracker.

“We’re fighting for seconds. Any time you spend literally three extra seconds to put a tracker in your pocket is just extra time and those seconds count,” he said. “It’s dangerous to be this close after so many races, but it’s fun.”

Kevin Benavidez remained in third, nearly three minutes behind. Nasser Al-Attiyah takes a big lead over Sébastien Loeb heading into the Dakar finale

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