Sebastien Loeb and Orly Terranova played it safe for Bahrain Raid Xtreme in the Rallye du Maroc today as the final round of this year’s World Rally-Raid Championship got under way with an emphasis on caution.
The two BRX drivers are both attempting to secure a second successive victory in the event for the Prodrive Hunter, and they were happy to play supporting roles as Swede Mattias Ekström set the fastest time on the 19km Prologue from Audi team-mate, Stéphane Peterhansel.
With Terranova and new Argentine co-driver Bernardo Graue taking tenth spot on the day, BRX team-mates Loeb and Fabian Lurquin were 11th quickest on the stage in their Prodrive Hunter, although the battle in earnest begins tomorrow.
The restrained nature of the Prologue was highlighted by the fact that Qatar’s Nasser Al Attiyah, who is on the verge of a second W2RC crown, finished the day in 21st position, ahead of five tough desert stages that will decide the rally and championship outcomes.
Third on the day in his Toyota, Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al Rajhi is the only driver who can prevent Al Attiyah from retaining the W2RC drivers’ title. To do that, he must win the rally outright, and finish near the top in every individual stage over the next five days.
Nine-time World Rally Champion Loeb, and Terrranova, last year’s runner-up in the event, want to underline the liking of the BRX Prodrive Hunter for the Moroccan desert, where Frenchman Guerlain Chicherit gave the car its first rally victory 12 months ago.
Chicerit, now an Overdrive team-mate of Al Rajhi, was fourth fastest today, while two other Prodrive Hunters, driven by Brazilian brothers Cristian and Marcos Baumgart, finished in the top ten.
The Prologue took the 34-strong cars on a fast, rolling, sandy appetiser for the five demanding desert stages to follow. Later, the top ten drivers were selecting their starting positions for tomorrow’s 324km stage from Agadir to Zagora, the first of five demanding desert time trials in a route of 2,240km, which finishes at Merzouga, near the Algerian border, on Wednesday.
This is Loeb’s first W2RC appearance since April’s third round in Mexico, where Lurquin broke his shoulder, although the French star has seen plenty of other action in Rallycross, Extreme E and rallying.
He has been relishing his return to action in the BRX Prodrive Hunter, which he drove to victory in Andalucia last year, and took to a record-breaking six successive Dakar Rally stage wins back in January.