Nasser Al-Attiyah has moved into the lead of the Dakar Rally despite dropping more than 20 minutes, as Audi’s Carlos Sainz ground to a halt on an ultimately shortened third stage.
Heavy rain and low cloud meant that the initially planned 447km stage had to be called off before the final checkpoint as conditions became too bad for the helicopters to operate.
The ASO, therefore, had no other option but to end the stage some 70km early, leaving GCK Motorsport’s Guerlain Chicherit the fastest driver of the day in his Hunter T1+.
“The degradation in weather conditions has made it no longer possible for the organizers to guarantee the best safety conditions for the competitors, so the crews in the car and truck categories have been halted at CP3 (after 377 km),” a statement from the ASO read. “The rankings for the day will be established from the times achieved at this point.”
Up until that point, the primarily sandy trek from AlUla to Ha’il had already produced its fair share of drama, with a number of big names suffering significant time losses.
After losing more than an hour during Monday’s second stage, Bahrain Raid Xtreme’s Sébastien Loeb endured another frustrating day, stopping barely 26km into the stage with a broken trackrod and losing 20 minutes before suffering another two punctures.
Erstwhile rally leader Carlos Sainz also hit trouble with an issue with the left-rear of his T1-Ultimate Audi RS Q e-tron E2. After struggling with a broken jack and a stuck wheel nut, he was stranded for over half an hour but got going again, albeit way down the order.
This left Toyota’s Al-Attiyah in the effective overall lead, but the defending winner was not immune to his own strife. He lost more than 20 minutes to Chicherit after two punctures but, crucially, only 16 minutes to Overdrive Racing’s Yazeed Al Rajhi, over whom Al-Attiyah maintains a healthy lead in the overall classification.
While Al-Attiyah and navigator Mathieu Baumel were able to limit the damage and emerge from the stage with a huge lead, Sainz and Lucas Cruz tumbled down the order to eighth after their woes.
The problems for the main T1+ and T1U contenders did not, however, take away from the entertaining battle for stage honors between Chicherit and Al-Attiyah’s Toyota Gazoo Racing team-mate Henk Lategan.
Chicherit hit the front after the second waypoint at 95km after early leader Al Rajhi dropped two minutes, with Lategan just 17s adrift before himself moving ahead by the third waypoint at 147km.
Al Rajhi was still in the mix but was now fourth behind the BRX Hunter of Orlando Terranova who kept in touch just 54s behind Lategan. The Toyota driver – alongside navigator and former biker Brett Cummings – began to edge away by the midway point of the stage but Chicherit (starting 28th on the road) hauled himself back into the lead by 45s by the 240km marker.
By this point, Sainz was out of contention with his issues, leaving 14-time winner Stéphane Peterhansel as the highest placed Audi in eighth. With Al-Attiyah dropping nine minutes after the fourth waypoint, that gave the likes of Century Factory Racing Team’s Brian Baragwanath the opportunity to move into the top four.
The upgraded 2WD Century CR6 buggy, now fitted with a 2.9-litre bi-turbo Audi RS4 engine, again produced the goods en route to the fifth fastest time behind Peterhansel and ahead of Al Rajhi who lost pace in the second half of the stage.
Chicherit then began to pull away from Lategan and opened up a margin of nearly three minutes before the stage was eventually canned. Terranova ended up third, 4m39s off the pace, while Peterhansel was a distant fourth, exactly eight minutes in arrears.
Al Rajhi finished 30s behind Baragwanath in sixth, ahead of Vadotas Zala who finally enjoyed a somewhat clean stage after a pair of difficult tests so far.
Overdrive Racing’s Lucas Moraes and experienced navigator Timo Gottschalk finished ninth quickest while Pascal Lachaume was 10th fastest in his MD Rallye Sport machine.
It all means that Al-Attiyah holds a lead of 13 minutes from Al Rajhi, with Peterhansel provisionally moving up to third place, just over 20 minutes adrift of the top Toyota.
Car debutant Simon Vitse maintains his excellent form so far for MD Rally, sitting a superb fourth behind Peterhansel, while Baragwanath and Century Factory Racing team-mate Mathieu Serradori are also close behind.
Mattias Ekström was 12th overall, one place behind Lategan after losing time on Monday due to multiple punctures and copping a 15-minute time penalty on Sunday’s opener after missing a waypoint.
Loeb is 26th in the overall classification, 1h33m49s adrift of Al-Attiyah in the lead.
The bivouac will now stay in Ha’il for the next three days, with two loop stages around the northern city taking place.
Stage 3 Result (AlUla– Ha’il)
1 Guerlain Chicherit/Alex Winocq (GCK Motorsport) 3h22m57s
2 Henk Lategan/Brett Cummings (Toyota Gazoo Racing) +3m26s
3 Orlando Terranova/Alex Haro Bravo (Bahrain Raid Xtreme) +5m04s
4 Stéphane Peterhansel/Edouard Boulanger (Team Audi Sport) +7m47s
5 Yazeed Al Rajhi/Dirk von Zitzewitz (Overdrive Racing) +8m31s
6 Brian Baragwanath/Leonard Cremer (Century Factory Racing Team) +10m13s
7 Vaidotas Zala/Paulo Fiuza (Teltonika Racing) +11m06s
8 Kuba Przygónski/Armand Monleon (X-raid Mini JCW) +14m38s
9 Lucas Moraes/Timo Gottschalk (Overdrive Racing) +15m41s
10 Mattias Ekström/Emil Bergkvist (Team Audi Sport) +20m03s
1 Nasser Al-Attiyah/Mathieu Baumel (Toyota Gazoo Racing) 12h20m33s
2 Al Rajhi/von Zitzewitz (Overdrive Racing) +13m20s
3 Peterhansel/Boulanger (Team Audi Sport) +20m45s
4 Simon Vitse/Frédéric Lefebvre (MD Rally) +24m53s
5 Baragwanath/Cremer (Century Factory Racing Team) +26m16s
6 Mathieu Serradori/Loïc Minaudier (Century Factory Racing Team) +27m19s
7 Giniel de Villiers/Dennis Murphy (Toyota Gazoo Racing) +32m08s
8 Carlos Sainz/Lucas Cruz (Team Audi Sport) +33m11s
9 Moraes/Gottschalk (Overdrive Racing) +33m45s
10 Martin Prokop/Viktor Chytka (Orlen Benzina Team) +35m10s
Jones wins stage as “Chaleco” hits major trouble in T3
Austin Jones prevailed in an almighty intra-team scrap with Red Bull Off-Road Junior team-mate Seth Quintero to take his first stage win of this year’s event.
The pair were split by just three seconds after the sixth waypoint before Jones pulled out a gap of nearly a minute. Quintero had begun to reduce the deficit by the final waypoint but was prevented a final charge with the stage cancellation.
Guillaume de Mevius was third quickest in his GRallyTeam OT3, ending up just over 90-seconds in arrears and comfortably ahead of stage two winners Mitch Guthrie and Kellon Walch.
However, Quintero now holds the overall lead from De Mevius by just over a minute as Red Bull Can-Am Factory Team’s Francisco “Chaleco” Lopez Contardo lost more than an hour in the stage after getting stuck in a river bed which had filled up with water amid the torrential downpour.
The same fate befell team-mate Cristina Gutiérrez Herrero, who had been in the top three early on, just over two minutes adrift of Jones before also needing to be pulled out of the river by nearby truck competitors.
Both Lopez Contardo and Gutiérrez Herrero have plummeted down the overall order, to 15th and 16th respectively, while Guthrie fills the final podium slot in third.
Goczal pips Batista at the post to win second straight stage
The T4 SSV battle was even more closely fought as Marek Goczal took the stage win by a mere 20s from South Racing’s Cristiano Batista.
Goczal’s second stage win in a row means he and navigator Maciej Marton hold a lead of over 11 minutes from Rodrigo Luppi de Oliveira, who missed out on a chance to close the gap after dropping time in the closing stages.
De Oliveira overturned a 54s deficit by the midway point to lead Goczal by 11s, the latter then dropping four minutes with an issue.
De Oliveira then hit his own trouble and lost ground with Goczal having to fend off a late surge from Batista to take the win.
Marek’s son Eryk Goczal – who won stage 1B – is fourth overall while prologue winner Rokas Baciuša is sixth, over half an hour off the lead.