Sebastien Loeb has conceded that Peugeot faces a difficult task of defending dits Dakar title against Toyota, on evidence from the opening stage.The timed 39km run that kicked off the 2017 edition of the Dakar Rally was topped by Toyota newcomer Nasser Al-Attiyah, with the lead Peugeot – that of Carlos Sainz – half a minute down in fourth.But while the results of the opening run have been dismissed as unrepresentative by many, Loeb reckons Toyota’s advantage on that type of stages – WRC-style sprints – was on display on Monday.
“In this first stage, they were faster than us because we have very different cars – they have a four-wheel drive with more horsepower and we have a two-wheel drive, with more suspension travel and less power,” Loeb said. “It’s different, and this stage for sure was better for the Toyota.
“We have to see – the rally is long, the condition will change all the time,during the rally, with some altitude, with some different kinds of stages.”
Loeb himself had topped several ‘WRC-like’ Dakar stages on his debut in 2016, but he reckons Toyota’s advantage during the Monday run came as no surprise.
Asked by Motorsport.com if the Japanese marque would be difficult to beat without its cars encountering reliability woes, Loeb said: “In these kinds of stages, for sure. Last year, even in the WRC stages, we were very fast, even if on paper I didn’t imagine we’d have that advantage with the two-wheel drive.
“This year the Toyota seems much faster than they were last year, so I imagine on the WRC stages they will be faster than us. And then for the rest we will see. It will be a long way to go – at the moment, I don’t know who will be the fastest.”
He also said: “I think [Toyota] improved and also they opened, I think, the restrictor for the Toyota – and Nasser is also a very fast driver.
“Now they put everything together in the Toyota, that makes it complicated for us at the moment.”