Nasser Al-Attiyah came out on top in a thrilling three-way scrap with Stéphane Peterhansel and Sébastien Loeb who crashed near the end to win stage five of the Dakar Rally.
The Toyota Gazoo Racing driver, alongside navigator Mathieu Baumel completed the second loop stage around Ha’il nearly two minutes clear of Peterhansel’s Audi team-mate Carlos Sainz to extend his overall lead.
Peterhansel has now leapfrogged Overdrive Racing’s Yazeed Al Rajhi to lie second to Al-Attiyah, although he and Edouard Boulanger are some 22 minutes adrift after what he described as “one of the hardest stages of my life”.
But Loeb’s challenge came to an abrupt end when he and Fabian Lurquin crashed 20km from the end of the stage, costing them 20 minutes following repairs.
For the second time in as many days, the crews completed the short liaison from the bivouac to the 374km loop stage, on almost entirely sandy tracks and dunes.
Peterhansel hit the front at the second waypoint after early pacesetter Henk Lategan (Toyota Gazoo Racing) fell back and maintained a slender 20s advantage over Al-Attiyah with Sainz just 15s further back.
Loeb was also in touch by the third waypoint and then headed Al-Attiyah by three seconds by the 182km marker. Sensationally, Peterhansel was just five seconds behind Al-Attiyah at the halfway point.
Then it was Al-Attiyah’s turn to set the pace, as he went 10s seconds faster than Loeb at the next waypoint, and 22s clear of Peterhansel as Sainz dropped to over a minute back.
Defending winner Al-Attiyah continued to press on and opened up another 25s on Loeb before the BRX Hunter crashed towards the end while negotiating a series of dunes. The car flipped onto its side and damaged a wheel, which needed repairing once the Hunter was righted.
“Behind a blind dune, there was a hole behind it and when we arrived, because when we get to these kinds of dunes, you don’t see anything behind it until you’re on it, it was like ‘woah’, and we hit the left-front and it just sent us onto our side. I think we were doing a good stage, but I made a mistake when I get a big camel grass, so we lost some time,” Loeb explained.
“It was horrible, physically it was really hard, violent event. There’s a lot of stress in the neck and it really gets to you.
“There’s a lot of camel grass; the bikes cut it down a bit and the first cars make a trace through, but we don’t always go through it. It hits you from all sides, left and right, you go through the dips, double dips and then the camel grass.”
Loeb’s error allowed Sainz to move into second on the stage, having jumped past Peterhansel at the penultimate waypoint and eventually secure the runner-up position at the finish, despite suffering a slight neck injury after a heavy compression.
“It was a really demanding stage for the body,” said Sainz. “I think I injured my neck a little bit in a compression, I hope it’s not too bad tomorrow.
“We need to keep pushing, there’s still a long way to go, so I hope we can carry and keep going until the end.”
Outside of the top three, Al Rajhi was fourth quickest, having profited from more misfortune for the third Audi of Mattias Ekström who dropped 40 minutes in the closing stages.
Lategan consolidated sixth place on the stage, behind the GCK Motorsport Hunter of Guerlain Chicherit, having suffered in the dunes on Wednesday’s fourth stage.
“It was a tough day [yesterday]; we were struggling in the dunes and in the camel grass in the beginning,” said Lategan. “We had to turn around at some dunes, I think my inexperience in the dunes was showing a little bit today, so we lost some time there.”
Behind Lategan came the Overdrive Racing Toyota of Lucas Moraes and Timo Gottschalk, with the third TGR Hilux of Giniel de Villiers seventh quickest.
Further down the order, there was disappointment for former biker and Acciona Sainz Extreme E driver Laia Sanz who suffered a heavy crash, writing off her Astara 01 Concept buggy.
Sanz and navigator Maurizio Gerini rolled 28km onto the stage, damaging the front-right suspension and the rear-end of the car. Both were unharmed.
It marks the end to a promising rally for the pair, who had been running 21st after the opening stage, but encountered difficulties on stage three after lengthy delays meant she only arrived back to the bivouac late at night.
Two punctures and careful driving due to being tight on fuel on stage four also dropped Sanz and Gerini time before the accident on stage Thursday. Impressively, Sanz and Gerini made it back to the bivouac after five hours driving into the night.
Dakar Rally results after SS5:
1 Nasser Al-Attiyah/Mathieu Baumel (Toyota) 20h47m36s
2 Stéphane Peterhansel/Edouard Boulanger (Audi) +22m36s
3 Yazeed Al Rajhi/Dirk von Zitzewitz (Overdrive Toyota) +27m01s
4 Carlos Sainz/Lucas Cruz (Audi) +34m52s
5 Henk Lategan/Brett Cummings (Toyota) +57m58s
6 Lucas Moraes/Timo Gottschalk (Overdrive Toyota) +1h01m43s
7 Giniel de Villiers/Dennis Murphy (Toyota) +1h07m57s
8 Mattias Ekström/Emil Bergkvist (Audi) +1h35m56s
9 Martin Prokop/Viktor Chytka (Orlen Ford) +1h52m05s
10 Romain Dumas/Max Delfino (Rebellion Toyota) +1h52m10s
De Mevius seizes the lead from Guthrie in T3
Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team USA’s Seth Quintero finally took his first stage victory of this year’s Dakar, but the biggest winner on stage five was GRally’s Guillaume de Mevius who now leads overall.
Ersthwile leader, and winner of two stages, Mitch Guthrie saw his victory hopes effectively dashed after stopping for over three hours on the stage, allowing team-mate Quintero to romp home to the fastest time.
Another to suffer on the stage, although not quite to the extent of Guthrie, was Austin Jones in the third Red Bull Off-Road Can-Am. He dropped 10 minutes but remains in touch in the overall, just seven minutes adrift of De Mevius.
Francisco Chaleco Lopez Contardo was second fastest on the stage, with Jones beating De Mevius to third, but De Mevius holds a healthy lead over the American heading into stage six.
The standout performer in the stage was undoubtedly former Quad Bike class winner Ignacio Casale who went toe-to-toe with Quintero early on in his X-raid prepared Yamaha YXZ 1000 before slipping back.
Baciuška inherits SSV stage victory after Batista penalty
Red Bull Can-Am Factory Team driver Rokas Baciuška took victory on stage five, but only after a 50-second penalty was applied to Cristiano Batista at the finish.
Batista had initially gapped Baciuška to the tune of 45s but ended up five seconds adrift of the Lithiuanian.
“Today was tough you know, with all the dunes and the sandy tracks,” said Baciuška said. “But we tried to do our best. We pushed today like hell and I think we gained some minutes. I don’t know exactly which position, but I’m happy because we’ve survived another day.”
Yasir Seaidan finished third quickest, a minute behind Batista while leader Rodrigo Luppi de Oliveira continues to lead overall after setting the fourth fastest time.