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Dakar stewards explain penalty which left Loeb furious

ASO has explained the reasoning behind the penalty handed to Sebastien Loeb in the 2021 Dakar Rally after the Frenchman labelled the stewards “incompetent” over their decision.

Loeb was handed a five-minute penalty for exceeding the speed limit in Stage 4 on Wednesday, where he had been the fourth fastest, 2m36s behind winner and factory Toyota driver Nasser Al-Attiyah.

This relegated the Bahrain Raid Xtreme driver to seventh place in the stage and the same position in the overall classification, 52m14s minutes down on leader Stephane Peterhansel (X-raid Mini).

The French driver, a nine-time World Rally champion, was left furious with the penalty and blamed a GPS bug for not receiving an alarm about the slow zone.

Writing on his social media accounts, Loeb said “ there is no room for incompetence or incompetents” in an event of Dakar’s scale and felt the penalty was too extreme for an offence that would have only gained him "two-to-three seconds".

Responding to Loeb’s remarks, Cars Race director Luis Gomez said the French driver exceeded the speed limit by 77km/h in an area demarcated as a 30km/h zone. 

"It was a DZ [speed limit zone] where they had to enter at a certain [limited] speed,” Gomez told AFP.  “On one section, he passed at a higher speed than indicated. This is information given by the GPS, which is passed on to us in a report.

"There is a clear regulation that indicates the type of penalty according to the speed he passed. The established speed was 30 km/h and he passed at 107 km/h."

Loeb had claimed that “in spite of our explanations but especially in spite of the GPS system provider's admission of a problem with his equipment in our car today (something that can happen of course), the jury of stewards didn't want to know anything and decided, sitting loosely behind his desk with the only risk of spilling his coffee when we risk our lives every day in the car, to impose a penalty much higher than what this GPS ‘bug’ made us save.”

However, Motorsport.com has learned that the BRX team did not file a complaint about the penalty - and has no plans to do so in the future.

"Sebastien Loeb has not come to see us, nobody has called us, nobody has made any complaint about this issue. That's why we were surprised this morning to discover the messages on social networks," Javier Soler, President of the College Stewards told AFP.

For his part, Dakar director David Castera explained how the participants' GPS works in situations of this type, making it clear that the indication of the start of the speed control appears both on the roadbook and on the positioning system.

"The GPS beeps every time a waypoint is validated," Castera said. "When you reach a speed-limited zone, the GPS lights up at 800 metres and indicates with an arrow how to get to the speed-controlled zone. From then on, you have 180 metres to stop.

"From what I understand of what has happened, Sebastien does not pay attention to his co-driver's instructions, but relies on the beep to stop. It is not the function of the whistle. The function of the whistle is to indicate that a WP has been validated. 

“You also have the information on the roadbook and on the tablet. He was coming very fast and was waiting for a beep. The problem is that it didn't sound (that may be) or that he didn't hear it... and that's the problem.

"When he realised it, he slammed on the brakes, but it was too late. I think it's a huge risk to trust that whistle. In my personal experience [as a co-driver] with Stephane [Peterhansel] and Cyril [Despres], the driver should never trust the whistle, but the co-driver. There is a lot to lose and little to gain.”

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In the rulebook of the 2021 Dakar for the car, truck and SSV categories, the following is clearly stated in article 37P3.1: "If a Competitor disagrees with the infringements noted, he must make a written protest, accompanied by a deposit, which he must then hand to the Clerk of Course within a half hour of notification, so that the GPS can be further examined". Bahrain Raid Xtreme refused to make such a complaint.

It also states that "any speeding recorded by the GPS will be penalised by the Clerk of Course". In the case of Loeb, who received a five-minute penalty (plus a fine of €300), it is because the GPS registered "an impulse of more than 40 km/h difference with the established speed limit.”

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About this article

Series Dakar
Event Dakar
Drivers Sébastien Loeb
Author Sergio Lillo