Toyota’s Nasser Al-Attiyah has moved to within touching distance of a fourth Dakar Rally victory following the penultimate stage of the event, won by Carlos Sainz.
The rally leader since the opening stage, Al-Attiyah had dropped over four minutes to his nearest rival, Sébastien Loeb, but ended up 39s ahead after Bahrain Raid Xtreme driver was penalized five minutes for speeding in a controlled zone.
The last proper test of this year’s Dakar visited the dunes for the final time, with the 214-mile loop around the south-western town of Bisha also providing a stern navigational challenge throughout.
High winds meant that most of the sandy tracks – which amounted to 42% of the stage’s terrain – were completely covered while sinuous canyons and wadis demanded precision and care from the off.
Starting second on the road, Sainz set the early pace after the opening two waypoints, 78 miles in, establishing a 1m53s margin out front.
Overdrive Racing’s Lucio Alvarez – who had been in contention for a podium position in the first week before mechanical issues dropped him nearly three hours off the pace – stayed with Sainz, just over a minute adrift and over 50s clear of Nani Roma’s BRX.
Loeb played it safe initially, reaching the halfway point some 2m57s down but he and navigator Fabian Lurquin pulled back over a minute on Sainz.
The Audi hit back over the following two waypoints through the dunes though and opened up an advantage of two minutes by the penultimate time control, eventually coming home 2m21s clear of the chasing Loeb, pre-penalty.
Alvarez held on for the third fastest time in his Toyota Hilux T1+, a further 49s in arrears, while Mattias Ekström was next up in fourth, some 43s adrift of Alvarez and 3m53s off the pace of team-mate Sainz.
Nani Roma was fifth on the stage, 4m10s down on Sainz but nearly a full minute ahead of Toyota’s Giniel de Villiers, who in turn was 43s clear of the third Audi RS Q e-tron of Stéphane Peterhansel.
The 14-time Dakar winner was forced to stop for around six minutes at the start of the stage with an issue, but still regained enough ground to finish almost two minutes ahead of Al-Attiyah.
The Qatari – alongside Mathieu Baumel – elected to take things easy on the penultimate stage. The pair were given a helping hand from team-mate Henk Lategan, who started three places ahead of them, as the stage five winner allowed the team leader through.
Lategan, however, had another reason to stop after 50 miles as a puncture and subsequent broken wishbone forced a lengthy stoppage of over an hour as he and navigator Brett Cummings made the necessary repairs.
Al-Attiyah completed the stage with the eighth fastest time, 6m42s behind Sainz before getting promoted to seventh following Loeb’s punishment.
Elsewhere in the overall classification, Overdrive Racing’s Yazeed Al Rajhi and Michael Orr are virtually assured of the final spot on the podium, 28 minutes ahead of Orlando Terranova and Dani Oliveras Carreras.
De Villiers is fifth heading into the final day and has a handy margin over the best X-raid Mini JCW of Kuba Przygónski.
Matthieu Serradori and Loïc Minaudier remain set for a top 10 finish in their SRT Racing Century CR6 buggy.
Friday’s final stage will be a much shorter affair, with a 101-mile trek from Bisha to the finish in Jeddah. The last leg of the Dakar will leave behind the dunes, with just soft, sandy tracks and a long liaison to the podium ramp in store.
Stage 11 (Bisha – Bisha) result
1 Carlos Sainz/Lucas Cruz (Audi) 3h29m32s
2 Lucio Alvarez/Armand Monleon (Overdrive Racing Toyota) +3m10s
3 Mattias Ekström/Emil Bergkvist (Audi) +3m53s
4 Nani Roma/Alex Haro Bravo (Bahrain Raid Xtreme) +4m10s
5 Giniel de Villiers/Dennis Murphy (Toyota Gazoo Racing) + 5m11s
6 Stéphane Peterhansel/Edouard Boulanger (Audi) +5m54s
7 Nasser Al-Attiyah/Mathieu Baumel (Toyota Gazoo Racing) +6m42s
8 Sébastien Loeb/Fabian Lurquin (Bahrain Raid Xtreme) +7m21s
9 Orlando Terranova/Dani Oliveras Carreras (Bahrain Raid Xtreme) +7m53s
10 Matthieu Serradori/Loïc Minaudier (SRT Racing Century) +10m38s
1 Nasser Al-Attiyah/Mathieu Baumel (Toyota) 36h49m51s
2 Loeb/Lurquin (Bahrain Raid Xtreme) +33m19s
3 Yazeed Al Rajhi/Michael Orr (Overdrive Racing Toyota) +1h03m43s
4 Terranova/Oliveras Carreras (Bahrain Raid Xtreme) +1h31m29s
5 de Villiers/Murphy (Toyota Gazoo Racing) +1h44m11s
6 Kuba Przygónski/Timo Gottschalk (X-raid Mini JCW) +1h51m57s
7 Vladimir Vasilyev/Oleg Uperenko (VRT Team BMW) +1h59m49s
8 Serradori/Minaudier (SRT Racing Century) +2h34m19s
9 Ekström/Bergkvist (Audi) +2h39m57s
10 Sebastian Halpern/Bernardo Graue (X-raid Mini JCW) +2h40m00
Quintero takes stage win record in fine fashion
Having equaled Pierre Lartigue’s 27-year record for the most stage wins in a single Dakar on Wednesday, Red Bull Off-Road Team USA’s Seth Quintero pulled clear in the record books by winning his 11th stage of this year’s edition.
The Californian won the opening Stage 1A on the first day and has won every conventional stage bar one – stage two which was won by team-mate Guillaume de Mevius after Quintero lost 10 hours with mechanical woes.
His latest triumph was just as commanding as the others, coming home some 15 minutes clear of EKS South Racing’s Sebastian Eriksson and rally leader Francisco “Chaleco” Lopez Contardo.
“It’s definitely a rewarding feeling, we’ve done 12 stages with 11 wins,” said Quintero post-stage.
“Every day has been an adventure, [navigator] Dennis [Zenz] did an amazing job and I think I’ve been OK myself; it’s been quite the adventure. For sure, [stage two] keeps on crossing my mind a lot, especially after a win. If we’d only had 30km less, we’d be looking pretty good right now but who knows, I could have been driving differently and we might not have got any more wins.”
Lopez Contardo is looking good to secure his third Dakar triumph and first in the T3 Lightweight Prototype category. He leads Eriksson into the final stage by 55m36s.
SSV fight goes down to the wire in Jeddah
Just 1m41 splits the Can-Am Factory South Racing team-mate Gerard Farrés Guell and Austin Jones following a dramatic penultimate stage of the rally.
Marek Goczał took his sixth stage win of the event, by 3m37s over Farrés Guell, with stage 10 winner Rokas Baciuška third.
Jones, on the other hand, had a disaster and dropped 17 minutes on the stage to Farrés Guell, meaning a final-stage shootout between the team-mates on the run to Jeddah.
Mechanical trouble brought Michał Goczał to a halt midway through the stage, effectively dropping him out of podium contention and behind Baciuška in the overall standings.
With his stage win, Marek Goczał now occupies third place, 18 minutes off the lead and just under five minutes clear of Baciuška.