Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Nasser Al-Attiyah will be the first car to start the 2021 Dakar Rally after setting the pace in the Jeddah prologue, with defending winner Carlos Sainz ending up outside the top 20 after a puncture.
Sensationally, Al-Attiyah had to share the top spot in the short loop test, as Brian Baragwanath set an identical time to the three-time Dakar winner in his Century Racing CR6 buggy.
Local driver Yazeed Al Rajhi was third quickest in his Overdrive Racing Hilux as Toyotas largely dominated the top five positions.
Behind Al Rajhi, Jakub Przygónski (Orlen Team/Overdrive) was fourth quickest, just ahead of TGR’s Bernhard Ten Brinke.
Nine-time WRC champions Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena were 10th quickest on their first Dakar outing in the Prodrive-run Bahrain Raid Xtreme Hunter BRX1
The 6.83-mile loop, starting and finishing in the second largest city in Saudi Arabia, was in effect an appetizer to the main event which starts tomorrow, giving competitors some useful running on the terrain which becomes their home for the next 13 days.
It also served as the first important competitive test, with the finishing classification setting the running order for stage one. As is the case in stage rallying, a lower starting order has historically meant faster road conditions and quicker times.
As defending winner, X-raid Mini JCW’s Carlos Sainz was the first driver to enter the prologue stage, which passed by the villages Al Ghulah and Asfan before navigating the ‘selective section’ loop at Um Aljerem.
The Spaniard lost 36 seconds to Al-Attiyah in the stage after suffering a puncture within the opening few miles, finishing only three seconds clear of Jérôme Pélichet’s privately entered Optimus. Sainz then tumbled further down the order, finishing 28th in the end, but will benefit from a more favorable starting order for stage one.
Sainz’s X-raid team-mate, and 13-time Dakar winner, Peterhansel was also down the order in 14th place, some 19 seconds off the pace of Al-Attiyah.
The best of the Minis came in the form of Orlando Terranova who set the fifth fastest time in his Mini All4 Racing 4×4. The Argentinian impressed in the opening week of last year’s event and secured a strong starting position for tomorrow’s first stage.
Reigning double South African Cross-Country Champion Henk Lategan was a superb seventh fastest in the third of the TGR Hilux 4x4s, beating Mathieu Serradori’s privateer 2WD Century Racing CR6 buggy and former Citroën WRC driver Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi’s Peugeot 3008DKR.
Behind Loeb was another former WRC driver in Martin Prokop. The Czech driver brought his MR Sport Ford Raptor RS to the finish with exactly the same time as Loeb, with Mini’s Vladimir Vasilyev doing likewise.
Loeb’s Bahrain Raid Xtreme team-mate Nani Roma was 15th quickest, one place behind Peterhansel. Roma, who won the Dakar on a bike in 2004 and in the car category in 2014, was forced into a last-minute co-driver change after his original partner Dani Oliveras tested positive for COVID-19. He has teamed up with Frenchman Alexandre Winocq.
Further down the order, 2009 winner Giniel de Villiers was 18th fastest in his TGR Hilux, while sports car veteran Romain Dumas lost over six minutes after encountering trouble in his Rebellion Motors DXX.
Vaidotas Zala, who last year caused a sensation by taking the overall lead on the first stage of the rally, finished 18th in his Mini JCW Rally.
The Dakar kicks off properly tomorrow with the first of 12 competitive stages taking place between Jeddah and Bisha, covering 172.12 miles of special stage.
Meeke sets T3 pace on Dakar debut
Kris Meeke heads the way in the side-by-side category after posting the fastest time in the prologue at the wheel of his PH Sport run Zephyr T3, alongside Dutch co-driver Wouter Rosegaar.
The ex-WRC driver finished two second clear of 18-year-old Seth Quintero in his Red Bull Off-Road Team USA OT3 vehicle.
Quickest of the T4 class SSVs was Austin Jones, who ended up just one second further in arrears in his Monster Energy Can-Am XRS.
One of the victory contenders in the T3 class, Mitchell Guthrie – alongside experienced rally co-driver Ola Floene – was seventh fastest, and third in T3, arguably with the pick of the starting positions for tomorrow’s first stage.
Double World Rallycross Champion Mattias Ekström came through his first Dakar stage unscathed in his X-raid run Yamaha YXZ1000R prototype.
Former Formula 3000 Champion Tomás Enge ended up 12th fastest in Buggyra Zero Mileage Can-Am Maverick X RS.
1 Nasser Al-Attiyah/Mathieu Baumel (Toyota Gazoo Racing) – 5m48s
2 Brian Baragwanath/Taye Perry (Century Racing CR6) +0.00
3 Yazeed Al Rajhi/Dirk Zitzewitz (Overdrive Racing Toyota) +8s
4 Jakub Pyzygónski/Timo Gottschalk (Orlen Team Toyota) +12s
5 Bernhard Ten Brinke/Tom Colsoul (Toyota Gazoo Racing) +14s
6 Orlando Terranova/Bernardo Graue (X-raid Mini JCW) +14s
7 Henk Lategan/Brett Cummings (Toyota Gazoo Racing) +15s
8 Mathieu Serradori/Fabian Lurquin (Century Racing CR6) +16s
9 Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi/Xavier Panseri (Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot) +16s
10 Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena (Bahrain Raid Xtreme Hunter) +17s
14 Stéphane Peterhansel/Edouard Boulanger (X-raid Mini JCW) +19s
18 Giniel de Villiers/Alex Haro (Toyota Gazoo Racing) +20s
28 Carlos Sainz/Lucas Cruz (X-raid Mini JCW) +36s