Al-Attiyah: I knew I would lose time as first on the road

Three-time winner opened the road on the first Dakar stage but is hopeful to make inroads on day two

Nasser Al-Attiyah

Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Nasser Al-Attiyah believes that he will enjoy better fortunes on the second stage of the Dakar Rally after a difficult start to the Saudi Arabian event.

Al-Attiyah opened the road for the first of 12 competitive stages courtesy of winning Saturday’s prologue, and struggled to match the pace of the X-raid Mini JCW Team duo of Carlos Sainz and Stéphane Peterhansel as a result.

The Qatari, who has won the Dakar three times in the past, lies 12m34s behind leader Sainz but he is confident of making some of that time up with a more favorable starting position for day two in 10th place.

“We understand, we decided to win the prologue yesterday and open the road,” Al-Attiyah said at the end of the opening Jeddah-Bisha stage.

“We knew that we would lose time [today] but tomorrow should be much better [for us].

“Today, we did a good job and without any mistakes, so I am happy to be at the finish.”

Al-Attiyah, alongside co-driver Mathieu Baumel, reportedly suffered one puncture during the stage which contributed to him losing four minutes in the middle of the test.

It is a stark contrast to last year’s Dakar, where Al-Attiyah suffered 12 punctures in the opening week and was forced to borrow two spare tires from TGR team-mate Giniel de Villiers.

Despite an initial setback in 2021, Al-Attiyah still believes he has the equipment to fight the two Mini buggies for overall victory.

“It’s very hard, not easy for our car,” Al-Attiyah said.

“We know we are losing time against the buggy but there is still a long way [to go].”

One driver who is anticipating a tougher time of it on day two is X-raid Mini’s Peterhansel, who admitted that finishing high up in the order on the opening stage was not his strongest strategy option ahead of the first dune stage on Monday.

“We were really in the middle of the vegetation, even though the stage is mostly open desert,” Peterhansel said.

“It was quite tricky to turn in the small Rios and we were often touching the bushes, so it was not ideal for the buggy.

“Starting so far behind the others benefitted us a lot, but things will be different tomorrow if we have to open the road.

“This wasn’t our strategy at all because we knew stage two will feature even more navigation. Yesterday we messed up, but we did well today. It’s one thing to have a plan and a different one to implement it. It would be better to start in fifth or sixth place tomorrow.”