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Nine-time WRC champion Loeb must face Dakar stages with ‘humility’

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Nine-time World Rally champion Sebastien Loeb says he will approach his first Dakar Rally as a privateer with humility when the marathon event starts in Peru on Sunday.

Peugeot’s withdrawal from cross-country rallying left Loeb with little hope of returning to the event for 2019, but he and co-driver Daniel Elena secured a deal to contest this year’s rally in a Red Bull-backed Peugeot run by PH Sport.

Loeb will drive a two-year old Peugeot 3008DKR on the Dakar, which will take place exclusively in Peru and features a route packed with sand dunes – terrain Loeb has less experience of than his main Dakar rivals.

“How do I approach dunes? Still, I don’t know, that’s the problem!” Loeb told Autosport.

“We have to face it with humility, keeping in mind that the objective is to cross it and not get trapped.

“In sand dunes, you can win two minutes, but also easily lose nearly one hour, by doing small mistakes. So, we have to take our time.

“On the other hand, we have cars that don’t specifically allow us to slow down in dunes, because we get sucked in; we have to keep the momentum, and the decision process are not always simple.

“The ground awareness, it’s something that Peter [Stephane Peterhansel, 13-time Dakar winner] or others have for several years, and this point is lacking for us, so it’s difficult for me.”

Loeb, whose previous best Dakar finish is a second place from 2017, said his privateer status meant he was “more relaxed” approaching the start of the event, but that he felt less prepared than he had in factory surroundings.

“It’s an initiative of mine, but it’s also a slightly different challenge,” added Loeb.

“We face things in our own way, we are not driven by a factory team with all the limits and advantages.

“Here we’re more relaxed, but we can’t prepare as we did in the past.

“I think I did five three-day tests in Morocco plus two rallies [last season as a Peugeot factory driver], while this time I have just one day.

“It’s different, but I have the experience from the past which will help us to get more rapidly in the rhythm.”

Asked about his chances of breaking his Dakar duck, Loeb said: “To win… honestly, I find it difficult to predict a race like this.

“Given that I’m running a two-year old car, I have no idea of the level of this car compared to factory cars.

“On a route like this one, with stages of 350km (217 miles) composed of 100% sand, it will be really random.”

Loeb’s 2018 Peugeot team-mates Carlos Sainz Sr, Stephan Peterhansel and Cyril Despres have joined the X-raid Mini team for the ’19 event, which starts this weekend in Lima and finishes in the same place 10 days later.

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