Adapting to new Dakar roadbook still tough – Sainz

Last year’s winner got lost twice during the first week of 2021's Dakar Rally but isn’t giving up on another victory


Defending Dakar Rally winner Carlos Sainz says he is still trying to get to grips with the new electronic roadbook after enduring a difficult opening week in Saudi Arabia.

The X-raid Mini JCW driver twice got lost on the stages alongside co-driver Lucas Cruz, shipping half an hour on stages three and five and leaving the pair 40 minutes behind leader and team-mate Stéphane Peterhansel.

Sainz described some of the stages as ‘more like gymkhana than a rally raid’ but remains supportive of the new roadbook, which moved away from a paper form last year.

The Spaniard won stage six, the final before the rest day in Ha’il, taking his tally to two stage wins so far. But he lamented the costly navigational errors in the opening week.

“I’m not so happy with Lucas and myself, I’m not so happy with how we’ve been doing. I think we could have done a better job,” Sainz said.

“On one day I lost thirty minutes, on another thirty minutes too and on another day six minutes, so more than an hour in all.

“When there are a lot of junctions with many tracks and secret waypoints and all that, we didn’t understand it very well. We need to analyze really carefully because now there is a different philosophy for the roadbook.”

Stephane Peterhansel and Edouard Boulanger

Photo: Julien Delfosse / DPPI / Red Bull Content Pool

Trialed last year, the electronic roadbook comes in the form of a tablet that is placed on the dashboard of the car, with the old paper format no longer allowed.

The roadbook is also delivered to crews just 10 minutes before the start of the special stage, meaning that advance planning of the stage – normally done the night before in previous years – is impossible.

Despite his issues, Sainz supports the increased navigational challenge implemented by the event organizer the ASO and race director David Castera.

“I am totally in favor of having the roadbook delivered to us in the morning, but there are sections in it which can be interpreted differently. Nevertheless, you win and you lose together. In my opinion, we cannot make the Dakar a co-driver rally; you need to have a good balance between the navigation and the driving.

“Right now, it’s not possible to win unless something happens to Nasser [Al-Attiyah] and Stéphane [Peterhansel], but we will see in the second week.”

For Sainz’s team-mate Peterhansel, who is chasing a 14th Dakar victory this year, the first week could not have gone any better.

The Frenchman has yet to win a stage so far, but currently holds a lead of nearly six minutes over Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Nasser Al-Attiyah heading into the second week.

Peterhansel is partnered by a new co-driver, Edouard Boulanger, for 2021 and “Mr Dakar” believes that this aspect has in fact helped with the tricky navigational challenges.

“Edouard, he is not so used to the paper roadbook, so he doesn’t really know what it was like before,” Peterhansel explained.

“I have a really good feeling with him and of course it always helps when you are speaking the same language in the car, last year I spoke English, so it was a really good first week.

“He has never done the Dakar as a co-pilot. He’s done a really good job and I have a really good feeling with him, so it’s really nice”.

Peterhansel did, however, get lost briefly during stage five and dropped over two minutes to stage-winner Giniel de Villiers. For Peterhansel, it was proof that navigation errors can happen at any time on the Dakar.

“When we got lost, we were just turning round and round and the feeling was really bad because we thought we had lost five, 10 or 15 minutes and it’s not a good feeling,” Peterhansel said.