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.
Portuguese football coach André Villas-Boas has been forced out of the Dakar Rally after hurting his back on Tuesday’s fourth stage, his team Toyota Overdrive said.
The former Chelsea and Tottenham coach jolted his back after his car went airborne off a sand dune and made a hard landing, Toyota said in a statement.
“Medical examinations show no broken bones,” but Villas-Boas is in pain and he and his co-pilot Ruben Faria are out of the 9,000km rally, the team added.
Villas-Boas, 40, taking part in his first ever rally, had made a difficult debut in the sports most demanding race, and was 2hr 18min 50sec behind the leader after the third stage.