Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa’s Nasser Al-Attiyah clinched his fourth Dakar Rally victory, keeping Sébastien Loeb at arm’s length as the crews arrived back in Jeddah following 13 days of action.
Alongside navigator Mathieu Baumel, Al-Attiyah dominated proceedings from the start as several rivals fell by the wayside or hit trouble.
Al-Attiyah won the most stages, three in total including the prologue, to come home 27m46s ahead of Loeb, while Overdrive Racing’s Yazeed Al Rajhi became the first Saudi Arabian driver to stand on a Dakar podium in third.
The final stretch from Bisha to the ceremonial finish in Jeddah was largely processional but still one which provided a challenge to the unwitting. Al-Attiyah kept his cool to finish 19th as team-mate Henk Lategan won the last stage.
Audi’s maiden Dakar appearance ended with a top 10 finish for Mattias Ekström and Emil Bergkvist as the electric RS Q e-tron proved to be a match on pure pace with the leading combustion vehicles.
While attention was centered on the competition, the 44th edition began under a dark cloud following a pre-event explosion outside the Donatello Hotel in Jeddah, which seriously injured car competitor Philippe Boutron.
The ASO, the event organizers, increased security around the bivouac while Saudi authorities launched an official investigation amid suspicion of terrorist activity.
When the rally did get underway, it was Al-Attiyah who quickly built up a healthy lead by winning both elements of the first stage – stage 1A allowed the top 10 finishers to choose their road position for stage 1B – as his main rivals had a nightmare start to the rally.
Loeb was Al-Attiyah’s closest challenger in second, albeit already 12 minutes off the pace following a pair of punctures, while suspension failure after a heavy landing ended the hopes of Audi’s Stéphane Peterhansel.
Carlos Sainz, who eventually went on to record two stage wins in the second Audi, lost over two hours after a contentious road book instruction sent upwards of 50 cars off course.
That effectively made the event a two-horse race, but Loeb had further issues on stage six as transmission problems meant he was left with two-wheel-drive and was forced to temporarily concede second to Al Rajhi.
The second week went much better for Loeb and Lurquin, winning stage seven and taking nearly 20 minutes out of Al-Attiyah on the stages but it wouldn’t prove enough of a fightback to challenge for the win.
Despite this, BRX celebrated a promising second outing on the Dakar which yielded a first stage win in seven years for Orlando Terranova en route to a superb fourth place at the finish.
Audi also came away from its Dakar debut with reason to be cheerful despite enduring a troublesome opening week in which all three of its cars were struck by similar damper failures.
Peterhansel was the first to hit trouble, with the 14-time winner requiring the assistance truck three times in the first five stages, while Sainz and Ekström were also halted.
Despite this, the RS Q e-tron was rapid in the second week with each of the crews taking a stage victory. Ekström claimed an impressive maiden stage win on the eighth day, while Peterhansel broke his 2022 duck on stage 10.
As Al-Attiyah cruised to victory, his Toyota team-mates Lategan and Giniel de Villiers endured an up-and-down event, with each winning a stage and suffering misfortune.
Lategan took his maiden Dakar stage win on day five, having come close the previous stage before his Hilux T1+ broke a wheel hub, while de Villiers bounced back from a torrid first week to win stage nine.
De Villiers, who overcame a pre-event COVID-19 scare, was handed a five-minute penalty after an incident with a biker on stage one, and then a five-hour punishment for a separate incident the following day.
The second penalty was subsequently reversed, with the mentally battered 2009 Dakar winner responding in style in the second week as he claimed fifth place overall.
Kuba Przygónski was the best of the X-raid Mini JCW buggies in sixth after a challenging event, while Vladimir Vasilyev suffered a final-stage nightmare in his privateer VRT Team BMW X3, losing 54 minutes and what would have been a fine seventh place overall.
That elevated the SRT Racing Century CR6 of Matthieu Serradori and Loïc Minaudier to seventh, ahead of Sebastian Halpern’s X-raid Mini JCW.
Ekström brought his Audi home ninth, with Vaidotas Zala – who finished fifth on the last stage – completing the top 10.
Extreme E driver Laia Sanz did well in her first Dakar on four wheels aboard an X-raid-run Mini John Cooper Works All4 Rally. The 14-time Women’s Trial World Champion survived a brush with a rock which broke a wheel hub on stage 10 to reach the Jeddah finish.
Stage 12 (Bisha – Jeddah) result
1 Henk Lategan/Brett Cummings (Toyota) 1h35m19s
2 Stéphane Peterhansel/Édouard Boulanger (Audi) +49s
3 Brian Baragwanath/Leonard Cremer (Century) +1m51s
4 Sébastien Loeb/Fabian Lurquin (Bahrain Raid Xtreme) +2m20s
5 Vaidotas Žala/Paulo Fiúza (X-raid Mini) +3m25s
6 Orlando Terranova/Dani Oliveras Carreras (Bahrain Raid Xtreme) +3m47s
7 Marcelo Tiglia Gastaldi/Cadu Sachs (Century) +4m16s
8 Bernhard ten Brinke/Sébastien Delaunay (Overdrive Toyota) +4m27s
9 Khalid Al Qassimi/Dirk Von Zitzewitz (Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot) +5m03s
10 Sebastian Halpern/Bernardo Graue (X-raid Mini) +5m19s
Overall standings after SS12
1 Nasser Al-Attiyah/Mathieu Baumel (Toyota) 38h33m03s
2 Loeb/Lurquin (Bahrain Raid Xtreme) +27m46s
3 Yazeed Al Rajhi/Michael Orr (Overdrive Toyota) +1h01m13s
4 Terranova/Oliveras Carreras (Bahrain Raid Xtreme) +1h27m23s
5 Giniel De Villiers/Dennis Murphy (Toyota) +1h41m48s
6 Kuba Przygónski/Timo Gottschalk (X-raid Mini) +1h53m06s
7 Mathieu Serradori/Loic Minaudier (SRT Racing Century) +2h32m05s
8 Halpern/Graue (X-raid Mini) +2h38m26s
9 Mattias Ekström/Emil Bergkvist (Audi) +2h42m11s
10 Žala/Fiúza (X-raid Mini) +3h31m55s
Lopez Contardo takes T3 victory at a canter
Francisco “Chaleco” Lopez Contardo claimed his third Dakar victory in four years after completing a steady run to the Jeddah finish, as Seth Quintero chalked up his record-extending 12th stage victory.
EKS South Racing’s Lopez Contardo took over the leadership of the rally on stage two after Quintero suffered mechanical problems in his Red Bull Off-Road Team USA OT3, and never looked back, producing a consistent performance to come home 52 minutes clear of his team-mate and Dakar rookie Sebastian Eriksson.
Lopez Contardo, who won the T4 side-by-side (SSV) class in 2021, came into the final stage comfortably in the lead, but reticent.
“It is very easy to have a problem and exit the race, tomorrow is another day,” he said.
It may well have been, but Lopez Contardo showed no signs of wilting on the final run to the finish. The Chilean continued his form of driving carefully to take third on the stage, 5m31s behind Quintero to be assured of the win.
Quintero’s team-mate – and X44 Extreme E driver – Cristina Gutierréz finished an up-and-down event with a well-deserved podium in third.
Jones denies Farrés Guell in final-stage thriller
American Austin Jones finally claimed victory in the SSV category for the Can-Am Factory South Racing Team in a final-stage shootout with team-mate Gerard Farrés Guell.
The latter went into the last stage just 1m41s adrift, having taken over the leadership on the penultimate stage.
Farrés Guell managed to maintain his virtual overall lead after the opening waypoint, but shipped a costly 10 minutes before the finish with electrical issues, allowing Jones to snatch back the class victory in dramatic fashion.
Rokas Baciuška took his second stage win of his maiden Dakar for South Racing, beating Rodrigo Luppi De Oliveira by over three minutes.
Jones was third on the stage, some five minutes behind, but crucially 4m18s clear of the hapless Farrés Guell who had to make do with the runner-up position in the end.
By winning the final stage, Baciuška snatched third ahead of Cobant-Energylandia’s Marek Goczał, who took six stage wins, including the prologue.