Abu Dhabi Racing and Peugeot Middle East official driver Sheikh Khalid bin Faisal Al Qassimi finished eighth in Wednesday’s stage 11 of the Dakar Rally to hold on to his overall seventh position in the standings.
Held in the Belen-Fiambala-Chilecito section in Argentina, stage 11 of the rally comprised of a total distance of 747km with a special section of 280 km.
Sheikh Khalid, along with his co-driver Xavier Panseri, suffered a broken suspension on their Peugeot 3008 DKR Maxi just 50km into the stage but was able to negotiate the stage where the terrain varied between sand dunes, loose soil and vegetation after inspecting the damage.
Aiming to improve his overall ranking, Sheikh Khalid’s progress was slightly hampered by the delay but he drove with determination in an attempt to make up for the lost time.
Following the results, the Emirati driver hoped to make the most of the last two remaining days of the rally.
Sheikh Khalid said: “We started well with the top cars and posted some surprising times. However, the rough roads led to the impact on the rear suspension during the first few kilometres of the stage.
“My co-driver and I inspected the damage to the car and decided to continue the rally in order to reach the service area.
“We drove about 257km with a broken suspension and lost valuable time, but thank God we are still among the top-ten maintaining our seventh position in the overall rankings.
“I must thank the boys at PH Sport for the amazing job they are doing on maintaining the car and preparing a very competitive vehicle.
“Two days and the rally ends and I hope the best for us.”
Dutchman Bernhard Ten Brinke of Toyota was the winner of the stage followed by three Team Peugeot-Total drivers in Cyril Despres, Carlos Sainz and Stéphane Peterhansel and Nasser Al-Attiyah respectively.
Rally leader Sainz maintained a 50-minute advantage over team-mate Peterhansel in the overall standings following the results in Stage 11.
Meanwhile, UAE’s Mohammed Balooshi climbed to 29th in the overall bikes category in a field of 86 riders.
Abu Dhabi Racing and Peugeot Middle East official driver Sheikh Khalid bin Faisal Al Qassimi, behind the wheel of a 3008 DKR Maxi, with co-driver Xavier Panseri, stayed inside the top 10 on completion of the Arequipa/La Paz stage of the Dakar Rally. Al Qassimi ended the day in eighth overall.
The stage comprised 447km of liaison and 313 km of special stages and is generally considered the toughest stage in the Dakar.
Sheikh Khalid faced numerous problems and lost considerable time during the stage.
With a much-deserved rest day yesterday, Sheikh Khalid said: “We started Thursday and had a bit of a problem on the first stage because we were at a very high altitude.
“We felt that there was something wrong with the car. We thought it may be because of the altitude and the temperature as the car was very cold. We started the car and drove for about 10-15km and we noticed there is no power; the car could hardly reach 100kph.
“Then the car stopped as it could not take any more throttle so we had to stop and try to reboot the car. So we waited for a while and tried again; the car started but was moving very slow.
“Anyway, we finished the stage, we lost whatever we lost. We then drove about 200km of road section and crossed the border.
“Another problem we had was a leak in the hydraulic. So we locked all the hydraulic pipes where we got assistance from Peugeot Sport driver Cyril Despres.
“It was a very long and hectic day with a lot of problems with the turbo, the mechanical hydraulics, with the wipers, the flat tyre.
“But still, we are not very bad in position. The team will now put the car together.”
Next up is Stage 7, the La Paz-Uyuni stage (727 km).
For , the fourth stage of the Dakar Rally all-owed him to find a balance between attacking and taking what the gruelling course gives.
A sixth-place finish on the stage pushed the Abu Dhabi Racing and Peugeot Middle East driver up the standings and into seventh overall.
The day wasn’t without more obstacles to overcome, including a flat tyre after 70km, but Al Qassimi showed a greater comfort in the conditions and pushed when he found his opportunity.
“It was very rocky so I decided not to go in complete cruise mode because if we had another flat tyre then we would have more problems because we did not have another spare tyre,” Al Qassimi said.
“So we adopted a different strategy and came to a section where there was plenty of sand and dunes and blind corners, so I was worried about the bikers because the previous day I hit a bike.
“But anyway, we had a balanced pace and there were some difficult canyons that we had to drive through. I had to find a way to ent-er the canyons and then exit them which was a lot of effort.
“We came up across Cyril Despres who had stopped due to a broken rear suspension so I asked if I could do anything but he was ok waiting for team support.
“We lost a few minutes, but then that is part of the game. We also missed a couple of points and had to come back which cost us some minutes.
“We will try and maintain our balance and see how it goes from here.”
Late Wednesday night, Sebastien Loeb was forced to pull out of the Dakar rally after a back injury suffered by his co-driver in a disastrous fifth stage won by defending champion Stephane Peterhansel.
As Peterhansel took another important step towards his 14th Dakar title, Loeb’s dream of winning his first was left in tatters after his car twice ran into early sand trouble on the run from San Juan de Marcona to Arequipe in Peru.
The French ace’s hopes of adding a Dakar to his nine world rally championships at the third attempt had appeared encouraging after climbing to second in the standings following the fourth stage.
But instead he was left rebooking his flight home after his Peugeot became stuck in the dunes twice, with a truck having to help him out of a sand hole, costing him almost three hours.
Yet it was an injury suffered by co-driver Daniel Elena as they descended a dune that forced Loeb to bring a premature end to his 2018 Dakar, 10 days before the finish in Cordoba, Argentina.
“He screams as soon as I go over 30 km/h, I can’t see how we can go on like this,” explained Loeb.
He added: “It went badly, the dunes are too soft, we did not see the hole, we hit it hard … It’s over, Daniel is bad, but he’ll be okay. It’s so soft, without the (assistance) truck, we wouldn’t have got out,” Loeb told France Television.
After his fourth stage win on Tuesday Loeb was placed seven minutes second to Peterhansel in another Peugeot.
France’s ‘Mr Dakar’ has won the car title seven times with a further six titles on two wheels, the first coming way back in 1991.
Honda’s Spanish rider Joan Barreda Hort won the motorbike stage with Yamaha’s Adrien van Beveren retaining the overall lead.