Al-Attiyah: Better rules needed after more puncture drama

Toyota driver believes 4x4s are unable to compete evenly with buggies on the Dakar


Dakar Rally runner-up Nasser Al-Attiyah has called for ‘better’ regulations surrounding tires for future editions after suffering a spate of punctures for the second year in succession.

The Toyota Gazoo Racing driver finished 14m51s behind X-raid Mini’s Stéphane Peterhansel but was dogged by over 16 punctures throughout the 12-stage event.

Al-Attiyah arguably missed out on a fourth Dakar victory in 2020 after suffering 12 punctures inside the opening week, having to borrow three spares from team-mate Giniel de Villiers.

De Villiers fared worse this year, copping 18 punctures, but Al-Attiyah was left frustrated with rules he labelled as ‘not fair’.

“It really wasn’t easy,” said Al-Attiyah. “It’s exactly like last year, we really struggled with the tires. I hope for next year there will be better rules for everybody.

“There should be a regulation on tires for next year which is the same for the two-wheel-drive buggies and us in the four-wheel-drive 4x4s. We have really had a lot of punctures. I’ve had more than 16 tires punctured. I am sure that sixteen tires [multiplied by] one-and-a-half minutes [for] each change is a lot.

“Last year I lost the Dakar after 18 punctures, this year I lost it with more than 16 punctures, it’s not right.”

Nasser Al-Attiyah

The tire profiles between the 4×4 Toyota Hilux and the rear-wheel-drive Mini buggy vary significantly, with the 2WD tires much bigger in size but one of the major differences comes in suspension travel between the two vehicles.

As a four-wheel-drive car, the Toyota is restricted to 280mm of suspension travel, whereas the 2WD buggy has unlimited travel.

This was one of the reasons TGR believed why its cars received so many punctures in 2020 and may explain why that trend continued this year.

While Al-Attiyah stopped short of detailing exact changes to the regulation he envisaged, the Qatari made the comparison that it was like he had “four fingers and not five”.

“We did an amazing job with no mistakes from me, my co-driver [Frenchman Mathieu Baumel] or the team. We worked very, very hard. What can we do? This is the second year that we are fighting against the buggies.

“For me we only need to change the rules for it to be fair for everybody, that’s it. I am really proud of the team and what we have done since I joined the team.

“Of course, I’m more disappointed than last year, because if you only have four fingers and not five fingers like everybody else, it does not help.

Stephane Peterhansel

“I think we need to change the rule against the buggies because now the buggies have been winning for five years against the 4×4 cars,” added Al-Attiyah, who last won the Dakar in 2019.

“There is no question, it is not a fair rule. I hope the organizers will change it, otherwise we won’t be interested in coming.”

When asked about his views on Al-Attiyah’s comments, 2021 winner Peterhansel – who suffered far fewer punctures on the way to his 14th event win – said: “I don’t want to make any comments about the regulations.

“When we don’t win, we don’t cry about it, it’s just a problem with ego. If he had a slightly different ego, he might have won the Dakar.

“What I mean by that is that he pushed to the point of wanting to win the prologue and I think that’s where he lost the race.”