Four-in-a-row for Loeb as Dakar leader Al-Attiyah enjoys 'amazing' day

Sebastien Loeb reeled off his fourth stage win in a row at the Dakar Rally on Thursday as runaway leader Nasser Al-Attiyah hailed "an amazing stage" with the Qatari closing in on his fifth title.

Al-Attiyah avoided disaster as motorsport's toughest endurance challenge entered Saudi Arabia's daunting Empty Quarter - an immense desert expanse for the 274 kilometre 11th stage.

Finishing fifth in his Toyota to Loeb tightened Al-Attiyah's grip on the overall car standings.

With just three days to go before the finish on the shores of the Arabian Gulf in Dammam Al-Attiyah is one hour 21 minutes clear of the chasing pack led by Brazilian Lucas Moraes.

"Today we did an amazing stage with no mistakes," beamed Al-Attiyah.

"It looked a little bit easy because we didn't really push a lot, just to finish without problems so we don't need to work on our car all night.

"We need to control because there is no point really going crazy."

Bahrain Raid Extreme driver Loeb is third overall, nine minutes further back.

France's nine-time rally world champion will be ruing a costly first week marred by a series of punctures and a rollover that knocked him out of contention for the overall win.

His win Thursday was his fifth stage of this year's race but his shot at taking the coveted crown has gone.

Loeb completed the drive over two minutes up on Guerlain Chicherit but it wasn't all plain sailing in the Saudi sand.

"We had to change one wheel in the dunes, so it was a bit tricky to find a good place to do it and we lost a bit of time for it," the 48-year-old said.

"For the rest, I had a good rhythm. I pushed hard. The dunes were not so complicated overall, except some parts that were really tricky, but in the end we had a good day." he added.

While Al-Attiyah looks to have the car crown wrapped up it is a  different story among the two-wheelers.

Argentine Luciano Benavides took the stage 11 bike honours but there was a change at the top of the overall standings.

Luciano's brother Kevin, a winner in 2021, had led into the stage but ended the day's action in 10th, more than six minutes behind his younger sibling.

American Skyler Howes was fourth and now leads the rankings by 28 seconds over Toby Price, with Kevin Benavides more than two minutes further back in third.

"The stage was really fast, also with lots of dunes – really big dunes too," said Howes.

"I know the times were super close out there today. All it's going to do is to be tight going all the way in to the finish, which is super exciting”.

Friday's 12th stage is a 185km special from the Empty Quarter Marathon to Shaybah.

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