Sébastien Loeb continued to set the pace in Sunday’s seventh stage that launched the second half of the 46th Dakar Rally, following Saturday’s rest day. The French rally legend completed the 483km/300-mile leg from Riyadh to Al-Duwadimi 7m06s clear of the Toyota Gazoo Racing Hilux driven by Lucas Moraes, and gained a full 10 minutes on overall leader Carlos Sainz Sr., who was fourth today with his Audi RS Q e-tron after being delayed by a puncture and some navigational miscues.

The Audi team suffered an even bigger blow with the elimination of Mattias Ekström from contention for victory. The Swede, second overall to Sainz at the start of the stage, suffered a suspension failure 47km in. Teammate Stéphane Peterhansel stopped to help him effect repairs, but he was forced to stop several times more once he finally did get going and Audi’s hopes now appear to rest on Sainz.

“We had a good stage. No big mistakes,” said Loeb. “The navigation was really tricky. We were the first car, so… We had to make the line, but sometimes it’s better, because we were really concentrated on our job and I was pushing hard, trying to be very conscientious in the tricky navigation parts, and we did it very well.

“Ekström being eliminated was great, but there’s another one left. Gaining time on Carlos Sainz is good news.” Now second overall, Loeb is 19m behind the Spaniard.

Loeb’s Prodrive teammate Nasser Al-Attiyah was third on the stage, 9m47s back, although the Qatari is also out of the running for the overall victory after his problematic “48th Chrono” double stage.

America’s Ricky Brabec held onto his overall lead in the motorcycle category — just — by placing fourth on Sunday. Brabec’s Monster Energy Honda teammate Nacho Cornejo led the way by 3m12s from Husqvarna rider Luciano Benavides, while Hero Motorsports’ Ross Branch finished third and is just 1s behind Brabec after seven stages! Cornejo is third overall, 6m48s behind.

“The day after a rest day is never easy. We started off this morning third, so it was a bit tricky,” Brabec said. “All the guys I wanted to beat were behind me, so it’s been a tough day. I haven’t had a rear brake since like kilometer 40 or 50, so it’s been a slow day for me but, overall, I’m happy with how the day went. Not probably the result that I wanted to see, but I’m still 100% ready to go, so the next five days is going to be good.”