Bengaluru, January 11: Nine-time world rally champion Sebastien Loeb's hopes of a maiden Dakar title virtually ended after he withdrew from the fifth stage which was won by defending champion Stephane Peterhansel, who extended his lead further after the last full stage in Peru.
Loeb, who won the fourth stage for Puegot and was second overall, halted five kilometres into the 266km stage from San Juan de Marcona to Arequipa, the last overnight stop before the rally enters Bolivia and the high-altitude stages.
It was another bad in office for Toyota Gazoo Racing's Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah. The Qatari, who is one of the main title challengers to Peterhansel, was unable to close the gap with the championship leader as the Red Bull athlete had to settle for fifth place.
The two-time champion is fourth overall, 01h23m21s behind Peterhansel.
Loeb, for whom, it is likely to be his last Dakar as Peugot is pulling out of the FIA series, lost two hours waiting for assistance before continuing but, with co-driver Daniel Elena in pain from the jolt in the dunes, had to accept defeat.
#306 #peugeot3008dkr has now been retired due injuries sustained by Daniel in the initial accident, so that’s Game Over today for Séb and Daniel hopefully tomorrow we can start again with Day 6, wishing Daniel a speedy recovery. 🇵🇪👍 #Dakar2018 pic.twitter.com/Hp9L4UaXLj— Sébastien Loeb_WRX (@Loeb_Seb1) January 10, 2018
"The sand was extremely loose. We got stuck once and managed to get going again," Loeb was quoted as saying in the Dakar.com website before retiring.
"We got to a crest where another car was stuck. We were following Nasser (Al Attiyah) and saw him go over, so we did the same, but I hadn't realised there was a hole behind the crest. And, bam, we went right into the hole.
"Right now I'm trying to see how my co-driver's doing: we're driving really slowly and, as soon as I go over 30 kph he screams inside the car," added the Frenchman.
Peterhansel, Loeb's team-mate who had been nearly seven minutes clear and is heading for a record 14th Dakar win, took the stage to extend his lead over Spaniard Carlos Sainz to 31 minutes and 16 seconds.
Sainz, also in a Peugeot and a double world rally champion, got bogged down in the dunes early on and was 18 minutes behind Peterhansel at the finish.
Dutch driver Bernhard Ten Brinke was third in a Toyota, but more than an hour and a quarter off the pace.
Thursday's (January 11) sixth stage, with a 313km timed special section, runs from the city of Arequipa and up to the shores of Lake Titicaca before ending in La Paz.
The altitude of the Bolivian Altiplano replaces the dunes of Peru as the major challenge facing racers alongside growing tiredness.
Al Attiyah, who won Dakar in 2011 and 2015, and co-driver Matthieu Baumel began the day 58min 48sec off the overall lead and further delays cost the crew time in the dunes.
They set the fifth quickest time after the team was forced to change the Hilux's gearbox between the two sections of the stage and the Qatari ceded another 25 minutes to his rivals. He still remained upbeat about his chances.
"It was a nice stage, but we had bad luck also. We broke the gearbox and were lucky to get through the stage. We fixed it and we finished and we're here now. We need to work very hard now for the next nine days, because we saw many people retired like Sébastien (Loeb). It's still a long race. I drive at a good speed without any risks because we need to finish the stage."
(With Agency and Red Bull Media inputs).