Sebastien Loeb (FRA) and Fabian Lurquin (BEL) of Bahrain Raid Xtreme race during stage 04 of Rally Dakar 2024 from Al Salamiya to Al Hofuf, Saudi Arabia on January 09, 2024 // Marcelo Maragni / Red Bull Content Pool

Dakar 2024 – Loeb Wins Stage 4

Published: Wednesday January 10 2024
Leaving the tents at the bivouac in Al Salamiya to head towards the city of Al Hofuf, next to one of the country’s biggest oases, home to three million date palms. In between the two, the total distance to be covered measured almost 700 km, but the riders, drivers and crews “only” did battle over 299 of them.

It is very difficult to cover as much distance in Saudi Arabia without encountering any dunes, but the day’s portions were negligible. Top speeds of approximately 150 kmph were often reached on this quick special, on which Nacho Cornejo was able to show that he is not just an excellent navigator, to such an extent that he took the lead in the bike category general rankings. High-speed driving is also the speciality of Sébastien Loeb, who today orchestrated his reappearance at the top of the stage rankings.

11 CORNEJO FLORIMO José Ignacio (chl), Monster Energy Honda Team, Honda, Motul, Moto, FIM W2RC, action during the Stage 4 of the Dakar 2024 on January 9, 2024 between Al Salamiya and Al-Hofuf, Saudi Arabia

There were no specific difficulties on the programme for this fourth stage, but that did not mean there would not be any first-class performances. The one produced by Nacho Cornejo can definitely be classed in this category. His hallmark is ultra-rapid reading and especially interpretation of the roadbook. The Chilean again showed his worth in this domain, even if he did not have to open the way on the special, having been the sixth rider to start. However, the Honda rider knows how to open his throttle when opportunity knocks and he did not do things by halves! On reaching the finishing line, he won the stage and also took the lead in the general rankings, taking advantage of Ross Branch’s two crashes, both of which were fortunately not serious.

The man from Botswana lost the three-minute lead he had yesterday and even gave away an extra one.

Tomorrow, on the way to Shubaytah, Cornejo will have to ride like a boss: the last time he was in this position, he let victory slip from his grasp due to a fall 48 hours before the end of the Dakar 2021. Losing the Dakar two days from consecration is also something that Sébastien Loeb has experienced, the last time he led the general rankings, at the time behind the wheel of a Peugeot in 2017 near San Juan in Argentina. The Frenchman is not quite at the same level yet but has gently gone about starting his comeback by winning the stage finishing in Al-Hofuf.

201 AL RAJHI Yazeed (sau), GOTTSCHALK Timo (ger), Overdrive Racing, Toyota Hilux, FIA Ultimate, FIA W2RC, action during the Stage 4 of the Dakar 2024 on January 9, 2024 between Al Salamiya and Al-Hofuf, Saudi Arabia

The gaps achieved have not shaken up the race hierarchy, but to begin with he has climbed up three places and now occupies 6th position, 23’50’’ behind Yazeed Al Rajhi. In complete control of his new role of general rankings leader in the Ultimate class, the Saudi driver only gave away just over one minute to Loeb. As a result, tomorrow he will be joining Nasser Al Attiyah (3rd on the stage, 1’22’’ behind the winner) in setting off in pursuit of the best rally driver of all time, but on a terrain which suits them best: the dunes of the Empty Quarter.

“After 50 or 60 km we took the lead, to open the way and it was not easy. We had a slow puncture before 150 to 180 km. As we went on the tyre pressure started to drop, and the back of the car dropped, until it reached 1.4 bar by the finish, but it’s ok. It’s lucky we slowed over the last 100 km, but everything is going well. I’m always ready for the desert, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week”. – Yazeed Al Rajhi

It is a safe bet that the ocean of dunes will not remove the smile from the face of Eryk Goczał, who picked up a fourth special victory in the Challenger class (see Performance of the day), but the battle promises to be fiercer for their smaller cousins in the SSV category, in which Portugal’s João Ferreira was the quickest, without dislodging Gerrard Farrés from the top of the general rankings.

302 GOCZAL Eryk (pol), Mena Oriol (spa), Energylandia Rally Team, Taurus T3 Max, FIA Challenger, FIA W2RC, action during the Stage 4 of the Dakar 2024 on January 9, 2024 between Al Salamiya and Al-Hofuf, Saudi Arabia

At the tender age of 18 years, Eryk Goczał had already won four stages in the T4 class on his first participation on the Dakar, even finishing on top of the general rankings following a dramatic turn of events on the last special. This year, he has quite simply doubled his total amount of stage wins in five days of racing, including the prologue, and is well ahead in the Challenger class with a lead of half an hour over none other than his father! There is a threat against his dominance, with Mitch Guthrie 36 minutes behind and Austin Jones trailing by 1 hour and 5 minutes, but the question of strategy now arises for the young Polish driver. Will he take the risk of seeking out stage victories every day, or will he prefer to manage his race with the aim of picking up a second consecutive title that is well within his grasp if he looks after his Taurus? To be continued…

The lead has not changed in the truck race with Janus van Kasteren producing the best time for the fourth time in five days of racing. Nevertheless, he has a lead of only 5’17’’ over Aleš Loprais in the general rankings, so there is still everything to play for.