The 43rd edition of the Dakar Rally is underway in Saudi Arabia. We’ll be sharing daily updates from our friends at WESTx1000. Stay tuned.
Begin Press Release:
Teams Take on the Most Decisive Stage of the Race, Who Will Make the Cut?
Dakar is a thinking man’s race. An exercise of willpower, perseverance – a measurement of heart. There isn’t a person here who won’t be tested. Who doesn’t give a piece of themselves just to arrive at the bivouac (six PCR tests later…). And after 15 days of wearing the same two t-shirts, freezing to death at least one night, fending off heat stroke and diaper rash, slipping in and out of delirium and contracting just a tiny stomach bug – at the end of the race, so it’s ok – you’re transformed. At first it feels like you’ve morphed into some kind of oversized amoeba. But, when the dust settles, you’re on a plane headed home perhaps, you find it’s something else much more significant. Just as you have given a part of you to the experience, the experience also travels back with you. A bit of this race finds itself a home in your soul and stays forever, growing every rally, deepening its roots. This happens each time you come back, and every year you show up to the bivouac, you become more and more familiar, more at peace and then the race starts, and you get sucked into the chaos all over again. Before you know it, nearly three weeks of blood, sweat and tears comes to an end too fast. Ready or not, we all go home, dabbing, air hugging and air kissing (this year at least) our new and old friends, beaming with the type of joy which only comes from surviving something surreal, incredible, or terrible. If comfort is a drug, then rally is a lifeline.
For young athletes like Seth Quintero, challenging the Dakar can be the beginning of a long, eventful future. For veterans like Nasser Al-Attiyah and Stéphane Peterhansel, it’s securing a legacy. And for many others, it’s fulfilling a dream, or renewing a passion. For Polaris RZR Factory’s Sam Hayes, it’s a reminder that life is too short to procrastinate. Wayne Matlock (#420) had asked him to navigate at the coming Dakar Rally only months after Hayes finished chemotherapy – and with only half a year to train. In a different life, he could have said “no,” that it’s not enough time to commit to something this important. But knowing all too well that it all could end tomorrow, with no apparent reason, it seemed impossible to turn down. And today, despite the odds, they’ve managed to find themselves in the Top Ten by the end of several stages in the Lightweight and SSV classes. They have overcome flats and bend rods and being engulfed by a wave of silt when a wild Toyota cut them off at a turn. They may not have won stages (yet) like fellow Americans Quintero and his driver Dennis Zenz (#383, RED BULL OFF-ROAD TEAM USA) who took the stage today or Austin “AJ” Jones and co-pilot Gustavo Gugelmin (#408, MONSTER ENERGY CAN-AM) poised for a finish at 2nd overall. But they still won many battles and plan to come back next year to test these boys and the current UTV leader car #401 captained by Francisco Lopez Contardo and Juan Pablo Latrach Vinagre (SOUTH RACING CAN-AM) which is at least 18 minutes ahead of the pack.
It’s debatable the Moto class has had the wildest ride of the whole event. There’s hardly been a front-runner who can hold onto their seat. First week, 2020 Dakar champion Ricky Brabec (#1, MONSTER ENERGY HONDA) doesn’t seem to have a chance at a sophomore title. Post Rest Day, he’s in 3rd in the General Standings only about seven minutes from his teammate Kevin Benavides (#47) who’s favored to take the championship. But then again, only days before, their other teammates Jose Ignacio Cornejo Florimo (#4) and Joan Barreda (#88) were both in contention for the crown. And both were met with unfortunate endings. Cornejo, whilst in command of the rally, experienced an off-bike incident which removed him from the competition by way of heli-vac. Barreda too suffered a crash at one point but muscled through until SS11 where he, to everyone’s surprise, blew past a refueling station, ultimately running out of petrol in the sand. He since underwent a medical examination concerned that this very unusual mistake wasn’t caused by something more serious as a result of his accident. With so much red and black coloring in the premier group, it’s hard to see the usual bright orange uniform which is still very much present at this point.
Although patched and perked up now, Toby Price was brutally knocked out of the ring – having just secured the lead position – after sustaining game-ending injuries to his collarbone. He was the first hopeful for KTM Factory to earn back their place on the throne. But not to worry, previous DKR champs Matthias Walkner (#52) and Sam Sunderland (#5) are doing everything they can to block the way for Honda. (and Yamaha, and Sherco, and… Slovnaft?) In a grand production, Sunderland clawed his way to the top seed today, while Walkner concluded his work in 6th. Even KTM rookie, Daniel Sanders (#21) did a tremendous job reaching 4th at the A.S.S. all of whom contributed to pushing Brabec a little further from victory. It didn’t help that in opening the special, the Californian ran into some navigation troubles, but he’s come back from worse (did we mention last week?). Hey if all else fails, Rockstar Energy Husqvarna pilot Pablo Quintanilla (#2) is more than happy to pick up the slack, so the riders have no chance to relax and put their guard down. Although it’s a bit of a long shot with about an hour gap between him and Benavides, Utah native Skyler Howes has been outshining all the privateers (and many pros) this edition of Dakar. Finding himself first in the General this week, and now at 5th behind Sanders, Howes is at least outdoing his outstanding 9th place finish from the previous event. This is his third year, and he’s in the right position to land in one of the first five elite spots. If an OEM scoops him up (and the US would be furious if one didn’t), then who knows where we might see the 28-year-old in 2022? Our bet is on the podium.
Due to complications with inclement weather, the ASO decided to cut down Stage 11 by 50 kilometers to avoid the affected area. This didn’t make the trials any easier, however, as dunes remained the backbone of this decisive stage. Before vehicles even set eyes on the ominous piles of khaki, they powered through silty, slippery sheets of sand through the countryside recognizable to the Americans as a second Baja California. Replace the palm trees with cacti and you’ve been transported back in time to Mesozoic Mexico – an otherworldly place presently called Catavina which looks like the home of the Flintstones. Great mounds of sandstone boulders, with brush growing at their bases. The path twists through these stone figures on hardpack and a layer of silt, into some deep fesh-fesh, or deep baby powder like sand, washes. But the rhythm of this race was remarkably varied, as a whole but especially today. Like a baroque masterpiece, Concerto Number Eleven elevated the heart rate through bedrock, and slowed it way down to a quiet, yet still abrasive staccato, rocky section which punctured many tires of those who tried to bring up the tempo. The dunes, of course, offered the climactic finish, with big sweeping crescendos, dropping a few octaves whenever a car sinks into the soft sand or a bike flies off a ledge unexpectedly. This is where the drama was and not even the most legendary drivers were immune.
“I think it was one of the toughest days on the rally. The last dunes were the most complicated on the whole rally. It was not easy because they were very sharp. We got a puncture at the beginning because of the stones in the dunes. We had to take care of the tires and we tried to reach the finish, but thirty kilometers from the end we stopped to change a wheel and we lost six or seven minutes. It was not easy because it was a long day and really tough. To change a wheel, a truck wheel, which weighs one hundred and fifty kilograms, was not easy. But we’re happy because tomorrow is the last day and I think we have a big enough gap.” – Dmitry Sotnikov #507, KAMAZ-MASTER
Watching the Auto class duel for the trophy in Saudi, you could mistake these veteran all-stars as novices fighting tooth and nail to earn themselves a first grand accolade – and officially writing their name into the history books – much like Daniel Sanders in Bikes and Seth Quintero in a UTV. But instead, we have the privilege of watching our heroes duke it out like younger men, no trace of the complacency which can come with age and achievement. Stéphane Peterhansel has been fending off his assailants from Day One, hardly releasing his grip on the lead despite his rivals’ best efforts. Nasser Al-Attiyah (#301, TOYOTA GAZOO RACING) is one of the greatest threats, today winning six stages of this race, yet falling short of the overall he’s after. You’d never believe Carlos Sainz is almost 60 with the performance he and co-pilot Lucas Elena (#300, X-RAID MINI JCW TEAM) have been giving. For two weeks, these teams switched places, barely leaving room for other talent to debut in the Winner’s Circle. Overdrive Toyota, car #303 commanded by Saudi native Yazeed Al Rajhi and German navigator Dirk Von Zitzewitz have been putting the pressure on the elite group, undoubtedly mixing up the stats. Despite suffering endless flat tires and some mechanical issues, the Toyota Overdrive duo has risen on many occasions, swinging back again now into contention at 4th place in SS11. Cyril Despres and Michael Horn (#314, ABU DHABI RACING) have been aiming to break the ten mark, but their inconsistency still makes that goal questionable. Dakar is a volatile beast, however, and there’s still more rallying to do.
The quads too have had squabbles amongst themselves – not making way for any underdogs to slide into the varsity skirmish. It’s been exciting to witness, nonetheless. Today Giovanni Enrico (#159, ENRICO RACING TEAM) achieved temporary greatness with head and shoulders over his adversaries, but Manuel Andujar (#154, 7240 TEAM) is still carrying the biggest sword and the most potential to become vanquisher of the ATVs. Argentine-American, Pablo Copetti (#163, MX DEVESA BY BERTA), has endured plenty of setbacks but isn’t backing down yet currently sitting in the 3rd seat in both the Provisional and General standings. Trucks are likewise relentless in the ranks. If you peer into the KAMAZ-MASTER camp, you’ll find a militant level of order and method with the machines and (wo)men alike. This sort of precision is most evident on the racecourse where these high-powered steamrollers dominate anything which is foolish enough to get in the way. A fixture at the top of the camion totem, the Russian team has few challengers which earn their attention. KAMAZ filling P1 – Dmitry Sotnikov, Ruslan Akhmadeev and Ilgiz Akhmetzianov (#507), P2 – Anton Shibalov, Dmitrii Nikitin and Ivan Tatarinov (#501), and P3 – Airat Mardeev, Dmitriy Svistunov and Akhmet Galiaudinov (#509), few warriors have the huevos to stand up to the juggernauts. But Czechs Martin Macik, Frantisek Tomasek and David Svanda (#503, BIG SHOCK RACING) and Aliaksei Vishneuski, Maksim Novikau and Siarhei Sachuk (#505, MAS-SPORTAUTO) from Belarus are made of the same strain of grit all champions share.
The 43rd annual Dakar Rally will be popping the proverbial champagne bottles all too soon now, and with twists and turns every few waypoints, the ride has been nothing short of wild. Anyone who’s had the opportunity to follow along, in person or in spirit, is truly fortunate. This competition, similar to the intent of the Olympics, was meant to join cultures through contests. Gathering the most formidable athletes in the world, in machines which push the limit of technology and physics unlocking desires and inspiring goals. Is there a better way to connect with your neighbors, learning compassion for earth and mankind alike, while having the time of your life? We wouldn’t take that bet.
Ø Liaison > 51 km – Special Stage > 511 km; Al’Ula > Yanbu | 35% Sand; 46% Dirt; 4% Stones; 12% Dunes 3% Chott
Ø The longest special in the rally will set the scene for the decisive showdown among the remaining contenders. Dunes are back after several days to separate the best from the rest in an ocean of sand stretching for almost 100 kilometers where time differences can be huge.
Ø Yanbu is a port city on the Red Sea coast of western Saudi Arabia. Its Al Nakheel area is known for Al Fairouz Park, with grassy lawns. Seafront Subh Park’s tree-lined walkways look toward the beaches of Oyster Island. North along the coast, the Al Bahr area has an old town and a waterfront corniche. Nearby, sandy beaches line Sharm Yanbu Bay, with dive sites on the offshore coral reefs.
Ø Stat of the Day: In the absence of Toby Price, there were several riders ready to lay claim to the place of best KTM representative, but it was Sam Sunderland who came up trumps. By reacquainting himself with stage victory for the first time since 2019, the British rider also put a halt to a series of seven successive successes by the Honda clan, started on stage three by Joan Barreda and then continued by Kevin Benavides, Ricky Brabec and Nacho Cornejo. This sequence marked a shift in the balance of power to the Japanese constructor, which had taken time to rock the KTM boat, but which had started, over the last few years, to prevent the Austrian brand becoming rapid-fire stage winners. Indeed, it is necessary to go back to 2016 to find a similar performance from KTM riders, with none other than Toby Price, alongside Antoine Meo and Štefan Svitko.
Ø The author of the breakthrough performance of the second week of the 43rd Dakar, Martin Macík, has won two consecutive stages. The Czech driver and his truck, ‘Charles’ are hungry for more. However, they are no threat to Dmitry Sotnikov, who yesterday put close to 3 minutes into Anton Shibalov, his teammate and closest rival in the general standings, now 47 minutes back. Sotnikov has finished on the podium every day since the first stage and should be the next champion of the Dakar as long as he can avoid mechanical problems.
Ø Slightly shortened due to rainfall rendering a fifty-kilometer portion impracticable, the 11th stage of the Dakar had been heralded as a theatre conducive to dramatic turns in events. This complex and comprehensive stage threw up both navigational difficulties, for which total concentration was required at the start of the special, and a vast zone of dunes on the last third, where experts in taming the sandy mounds would hold a strong hand. This is exactly what Sam Sunderland and Nasser Al Attiyah applied themselves to doing, without however managing to break their respective rivals’ resolve.
Ø Ricky Brabec has gone astray from the route of the special after 247 km. The title holder, already lagging behind Kevin Benavides at the last intermediate point, could lose valuable time.
Ø Joan Barreda boasted a lead of 12′ over Ricky Brabec after 215 km. However, the Spaniard did not stop at the refueling point and ultimately ran out of petrol at kilometer 267 taking him out of the race entirely.
Ø Ricky Brabec reached the rest day almost 20 minutes behind the overall leader. Fast-forward to the start of the penultimate stage and the reigning champion is within a minute of the new leader, Kevin Benavides. Now that Toby Price and Nacho Cornejo are gone, Benavides and Sunderland are the last men standing between Brabec and a successful title defense… And with just one more stage to go, the odds are dropping fast.
Ø In several years’ time, perhaps rally aficionados will excitedly recount the battle of Yanbu. It was surely on this special that the title up for grabs between Sam Sunderland and Kevin Benavides in the bike category was decided. The Argentinean remains at the top of the general standings with a theoretically sufficient lead of 4’12’’, all the more so given that tomorrow he will enjoy a more favorable place in the starting order to defend his position. However, the Honda rider had to make a serious effort in opening the way with Ricky Brabec in order to withstand the attack of Sam Sunderland. The British rider’s show of force on the route of the special temporarily brought him within approximately forty seconds of his target, before he faltered slightly.
Ø In the car category, Nasser Al Attiyah also found himself in this role, but with a much more distant focus of his attention. Despite his 41st stage victory and a time gain of 1’56’’, it was impossible for him to reverse the trend and block the way of Stéphane Peterhansel’s march to a 14th title. Tomorrow, the Frenchman will start with a time cushion of 15’05’’.
Ø In the quad race, Manuel Andújar headed for Yanbu with the same mind-set and his Chilean rival Giovanni Enrico only closed in to within 25’52’’ by winning his second stage of the fortnight.
Ø In the lightweight vehicle category, the battle could have been much trickier for “Chaleco” López behind the wheel of his Can-Am, with a lead of only 10 minutes over Austin Jones, but the American let the pressure get to him rather than exerting it. As for Seth Quintero, he proved that his feat of last week was by no means down to chance as he won his second special.
Ø Anton Shibalov moved the counter up to 5 successes in total since his debut on the Dakar and should finish second, like last year, but this time behind Dmitry Sotnikov.
Ø In 2020, Wei Han finished his second Dakar in 10th position, becoming the best Chinese representative in the rally’s history. Currently occupying 18th place, he will not be able to improve his own record this year, but Han demonstrated that he was able to shine behind the wheel of an SMG buggy that is now prepared by the team he created alongside Philippe Gache. He proved this by achieving the sixth best time on today’s special, ten minutes behind Nasser Al Attiyah, slotted in between none other than Cyril Despres and Giniel De Villiers! As a result, Han picked up his second top ten finish and his best stage result on the Dakar. This bodes well for the Chinese driver, who hopes to line up with a reinforced team on the Dakar as from 2022.
Ø Joan Barreda Bort, the Honda rider who had posted the best time after 215 km, got muddled up reading his road-book and did not stop at the refueling point, exposing himself to a severe penalty and especially to the likelihood of running out of petrol. This is exactly what happened as he ground to a halt after 267 km. Since he requested a medical examination, he was airlifted to the bivouac in Yanbu. Although he had the chance to equal his best finish on the rally so far, namely the 5th placed finish in 2017, “Bang-Bang” well and truly tore up all the benefits of his performance which had, until today, been in phase with his objectives and the hopes of his Honda team to see their bikes paint the upper reaches of the general standings red. As a result, his 11th participation on the Dakar finishes with the 5th withdrawal of his career on the rally.
Ø Giovanni Enrico has won his second special of the year and has gained just over one minute on general standings leader Manuel Andújar. More than 25 minutes separate the two quad riders before the last stage and unless there is a dramatic turn of events (like Nicolás Cavigliasso or Alexandre Giroud’s premature exits from the rally), Andújar seems ensured of overall victory.
Ø It is a crushing blow for Alexandre Giroud: after 106 km, his engine has given up the ghost! Unable to repair, the French rider who was in second place in the general standings has been forced to make a premature exit from the race.
Ø Italo Pedemonte, who battled for victory with Pablo Copetti yesterday, has suffered a blow. The Chilean has ground to a halt after 21 km due to a handlebar problem and is waiting for his assistance team to see if he can repair it.
Ø Nasser Al-Attiyah has picked up his sixth stage success of the year! Although he trailed by up to almost 3’30’’ during the special, the Toyota driver maintained a sufficient pace to pip his rival Stéphane Peterhansel at the post. However, Al-Attiyah still trails the Frenchman by quarter of an hour in the general standings…
Ø Nasser Al-Attiyah has finished the special in front of Stéphane Peterhansel. The Frenchman has conceded a little less than two minutes to his Qatari rival. As a result, Peterhansel will start the last stage with a lead of a quarter of an hour. It is a comfortable lead, but he will have to be careful on the 225-km special tomorrow that separates him from overall victory.
Ø Carlos Sainz, whose bid for the title seems compromised, also experienced several difficulties on stage ten. In addition to the complicated navigation, “El Matador” lost time in the first kilometres that he had to regain on the second half of the special, with dust added into the equation making it difficult to see. Sainz is third in the general standings, more than one hour behind his team-mate Stéphane Peterhansel.
Ø Seth Quintero is without any doubt the revelation in this category this year. After becoming the youngest ever stage winner on the Dakar, the American has grabbed his second success on completion of the day’s special. This victory comes slightly too late for Quintero, who was still in second place in the general standings at the end of stage eight before encountering problems. Nevertheless, he can now be counted among the favorites for forthcoming editions. After all, he is the only driver in the category alongside Chaleco López to have won more than one stage this year…
Ø Following a disagreement on the day’s special, Xavier Blanco, Ricardo Ramilo’s co-pilot, got out of the vehicle after 170 km and refused to get back in, with Ramilo deciding to carry on without him! Fortunately, the co-pilot was picked up by a member of the team and is safe and sound!
Ø On completion of the final portion of the special, in the end Dmitry Sotnikov has missed out on the podium for the first time since the first stage and has conceded more than seven minutes to Anton Shibalov. The Russian climbs to within a little less than 40’ of his team-mate in the general standings before the final stage finishing in Jeddah, a gap which is likely to be insurmountable…
Ø Romain Dumas has suffered a blow having ground to a halt after 84 km on the special. The Frenchman has damaged one of the suspension arms on his vehicle and is awaiting his assistance team.
Ø Stéphane Peterhansel led the stage at the first-time check point, just six seconds in front of Carlos Sainz and 39’’ ahead of Khalid Sheikh Al-Qassimi. Brian Baragwanath is in fourth position, just in front of Nasser Al-Attiyah. The winner of the tenth special, Yazeed Al Rajhi has lost over a minute. A watchful eye will have to be kept on the other drivers who have not yet started, such as Yasir Seaidan, who suffered a mechanical problem yesterday after leading at the beginning of the stage.
2nd Overall Bikes, Sam Sunderland #5, RED BULL KTM: “I knew that today was one of my last chances to try to win and I gave my all, all day. The boys up front did a great job and, you know, I cannot be sad, because I give everything I have and try my best. I didn’t quite manage to take enough time, but I’m happy with my effort. We still have one day to go, and many things can happen on one stage. What a really tough day and a really difficult Dakar, but I’m super grateful for the team and everybody that put all the work in. Even to be able to be racing our bikes in the desert with the situation as it is in the world everywhere else, I can’t complain and I’m going to be happy to go and get some rest now.”
3rd Place Cars, Carlos Sainz #300, X-RAID MINI JCW TEAM: “There was just one wire, I didn’t see it. I was going fast, I passed, and the wire removed the whole roof. Again, it was a difficult day, with two punctures, difficult navigation. We had to do the whole stage with no more spare tires so we had to go slow. Everything has happened to us, but we’re getting close to the end.”
1st Overall Cars, Stéphane Peterhansel #302, X-RAID MINI JCW TEAM: “Today it was really complicated, like the organizers said beforehand, like we expected it to be, because the navigation was not easy, but we got two punctures, especially the last one that was in the dunes. They were really strange dunes – in the middle of the dunes there were some rocks just after the crest of the dunes, so it was not easy to anticipate or to see. The last one was a very big impact, and we had another puncture. We were a little bit afraid that also some part of the frame was broken, but at the end it was okay. We lost just a few minutes, it’s nothing. There’s only one day to go… it’s time to cross fingers and hope that we will be in first place at the end.”
1st Place Lightweight Vehicles, Seth Quintero #383, RED BULL OFF-ROAD TEAM USA: “Today went absolutely amazingly. I’m not too sure where we started, but we were really just trying to pick cars off all day and run smooth and that’s exactly what we did. We ended up somehow the first physical LTV and first LTV on time. It blows my mind how well this Red Bull Off-Road Team works. The last two days were really rough. We didn’t get back from stage nine until yesterday at four in the morning and then had to charge the next day to try and get to the finish. We got a little bit of sleep and here we are on stage eleven and I got that win that I was looking for, number two, and I really couldn’t have asked for a better day. There were no issues all day long and we just ran a smooth, clean pace. On my first Dakar I feel I’ve matured as a person and matured as a driver, because I’ve learned so much over these eleven days and that’s going to last a lifetime. There’s one more day to go and hopefully I can get one more stage win before I get out of this place, so we’re going to charge hard again tomorrow, starting up front and see if we can get it done again one more time. I’m already looking forward to the next one. I fell in love with this race since day one. Just being here and being a part of it with the whole team has been absolutely amazing. So, next summer I’ll be already looking forward to next year, planning next year and getting ready for next year. Hopefully, next year will be our year and we can charge hard.”
1st Place Quads, Giovanni Enrico #159, ENRICO RACING TEAM: “I knew that today was one of my last chances to try to win and I gave my all, all day. The boys up front did a great job and, you know, I cannot be sad, because I give everything I have and try my best. I didn’t quite manage to take enough time, but I’m happy with my effort. We still have one day to go, and many things can happen on one stage. What a really tough day and a really difficult Dakar, but I’m super grateful for the team and everybody that put all the work in. Even to be able to be racing our bikes in the desert with the situation as it is in the world everywhere else, I can’t complain and I’m going to be happy to go and get some rest now.”
TOP TEN STAGE RESULTS
1. #5 Sam Sunderland (GBR), RED BULL KTM FACTORY TEAM
2. #2 Pablo Quintanilla (CHL), ROCKSTAR ENERGY HUSQVARNA FACTORY RACING
3. #47 Kevin Benavides (ARG), MONSTER ENERGY HONDA TEAM 2021
4. #21 Daniel Sanders (AUS), KTM FACTORY TEAM
5. #52 Matthias Walkner (AUT), RED BULL KTM FACTORY TEAM
6. #1 Ricky Brabec (USA), HONDA ENERGY HONDA TEAM 2021
7. #42 Adrien Van Beveren (FRA), MONSTER ENERGY YAMAHA RALLY TEAM
8. #15 Lorenzo Santolino (ESP), SHERCO FACTORY
9. #11 Stefano Svitko (SVK), SLOVNAFT RALLY TEAM
10. #87 Oriol Mena (ESP), FN SPEED – RIEJU TEAM
TOP FIVE GENERAL STANDINGS
1. #47 Kevin Benavides (ARG), MONSTER ENERGY HONDA TEAM 2021
2. #5 Sam Sunderland (GBR), RED BULL KTM FACTORY TEAM
3. #1 Ricky Brabec (USA), MONSTER ENERGY HONDA TEAM 2021
4. #21 Daniel Sanders (AUS), KTM FACTORY TEAM
5. #9 Skyler Howes (USA), BAS DAKAR KTM RACING TEAM