Stéphane Peterhansel’s navigator Edouard Boulanger suffered a broken vertebrae in the stage-six crash that ended the Audi pairing’s 2023 Dakar Rally.
While attempting to reduce an 18-minute deficit to current rally leader Nasser Al-Attiyah, Peterhansel was caught out by a steep fall after a broken dune, falling around 10 or 15 meters.
The impact caused Peterhansel to momentarily black out and damage the RS Q e-tron E2, but Boulanger had to be airlifted to hospital in nearby Buraydah after complaining of back pain.
Peterhansel has since confirmed that Boulanger suffered a broken vertebrae, which will require a “simple operation”.
“For sure, I realized that the race was over for us because the pain of Edouard was really too bad,” Peterhansel said.
“We have a really good medical staff, and they took Edouard in the helicopter straight to the hospital and for me, they stayed with me for about 30 minutes more before also going to the hospital for a complete check-up.
“And, unfortunately for Edouard he has one vertebra broken, the D5. It’s really a stable fracture, not complicated, but he will need an operation so he will fly tomorrow to Munich to see a specialist.
“Edouard is young, and it is a simple operation so he will recover really quickly, but for sure it’s a big frustration to stop the race at the same place.”
Peterhansel said that, due to blacking out, he was initially unaware of what had happened, but quickly realized that Boulanger was in significant pain.
“When I jumped out of the car, I saw Edouard on the ground with a pain in the back,” explained Peterhansel.
“And then I started to realize that we had an accident. I asked Edouard if he was able to feel his legs and he said that he felt everything. Then, I realized that at the same time, Carlos [Sainz] also crashed at the same spot and his car was destroyed, the suspension was completely destroyed.
“So, for me, it was really confusing because I didn’t really know what happened.”
Audi arrived at this year’s Dakar with high hopes of taking a podium and fighting for the victory. The pace of the RS Q e-tron E2 was enough to trouble the Toyota Gazoo Racing Hiliux and Bahrain Raid Xtreme Hunter T1+ machinery, but reliability again cost the Audi team dearly.
Peterhansel believes that, despite the incidents, Audi had a car capable of winning the event.
“I’m very sorry for the team because, since the beginning – apart from the problem with the tire – the car was really perfect and was ready to fight for the victory. I was really happy with the performance of the car,” he said.
Loeb inherits stage from penalized Sainz as Al-Attiyah extends overall lead
While Peterhansel’s Dakar ended with the stage-six accident, Sainz – who crashed at the exact same spot – was able to continue albeit having to make lengthy repairs to his car not once, but twice in successive days.
The three-time Dakar winner and his navigator Lucas Cruz had to wait for the assistance truck after the crash on Friday, while Saturday’s Marathon Stage lasted more than 16 hours after stopping to donate a transmission and two wishbones to team-mate Mattias Ekström.
Despite this, Sainz and Cruz put in a superb drive on stage eight from 31st on the road.
It looked good to take their second stage win of the 2023 edition, beating Sébastien Loeb by 1m29s. But Loeb inherited the stage win as Sainz was penalized five minutes for speeding in a control zone, and dropped to third.
Loeb is up to fourth in the overall standings now, 1h52m06s behind Al-Attiyah.
Toyota’s Nasser Al-Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel finished third on the stage, subsequently elevated to second, having dropped time on Saturday after opening the road alone thanks to the cancellation of the bike stage.
They ended up 3m40s off the pace of Sainz but extended their margin at the top of the overall classification to 1h03m36s over TGR team-mates Henk Lategan and Brett Cummings, who were fourth on the stage.
Kuba Przygónski put his X-raid John Cooper Works Mini Rally into the top five of stage eight, with a strong time, edging out GCK Motorsport’s Guerlain Chicherit by just two seconds.
Overdrive Racing’s Lucas Moraes and Timo Gottschalk were seventh quickest on the stage, 12m38s adrift of Sainz, but remain on the podium in third overall.
The crews will now convene in the Saudi capital Riyadh for the rest day, with competitive action resuming on Tuesday for a 358km stage to Haradh.
Stage 8 (Al Duwadimi > Riyadh) result
1 Sébastien Loeb/Fabian Lurquin (Bahrain Raid Xtreme) 3h34m24s
2 Nasser Al-Attiyah/Mathieu Baumel (Toyota Gazoo Racing) +2m11s
3 Carlos Sainz/Lucas Cruz (Team Audi Sport) +3m31s
4 Henk Lategan/Brett Cummings (Toyota Gazoo Racing) +4m53s
5 Jakub Przygónski/Armand Monleon (X-Raid Mini JCW) +10m19s
6 Guerlain Chicherit/Alex Winocq (GCK Motorsport) +10m21s
7 Lucas Moraes/Timo Gottschalk (Overdrive Toyota) +11m09s
8 Romain Dumas/Max Delfino (Rebellion Toyota) +16m52s
9 Yazeed Al Rajhi/Dirk von Zitzewitz (Overdrive Toyota) +17m05s
10 Vaidotas Zala/Paulo Fiuza (Teltonika Racing) +18m15s
1 Nasser Al-Attiyah/Mathieu Baumel (Toyota) 31hr02m58s
2 Henk Lategan/Brett Cummings (Toyota) +1h03m36s
3 Lucas Moraes/Timo Gottschalk (Overdrive Toyota) +1h20m22s
4 Sébastien Loeb/Fabian Lurquin (Bahrain Raid Xtreme) +1h52m06s
5 Giniel de Villiers/Dennis Murphy (Toyota) +2h04m20s
6 Romain Dumas/Max Delfino (Rebellion Toyota) +2h27m11s
7 Martin Prokop/Viktor Chytka (Orlen Ford) +2h37m00s
8 Brian Baragwanath/Leonard Cremer (Century) +2h42m06s
9 Wei Han/Ma Li (SMG) +3h15m03s
10 Juan Cruz Yacopini/Daniel Oliveras Carreras (Overdrive Toyota) +3h40m22s
Jones closes in on T3 lead as top SSV crews struggle
Guillaume de Mevius continues to lead the T3 Lightweight Prototype category from American Austin Jones, but the margin was cut by around five minutes as João Ferreira and Francisco Chaleco López Contardo stole the show.
Ferreira took the first stage victory for the Yamaha YXZ 1000 Turbo supported by X-raid, despite a superb late surge by López Contardo in the final section.
The gap at the end of the stage was just 17s, with López Contardo describing himself ‘happy’ after hitting bad luck during the opening week.
“It has been a very difficult first week, but I am happy with this stage performance,” the three-time T3 winner of the Dakar said.
“The stage was very nice, very rocky at the beginning and then sandy in the second part, and I think the navigation was good for us.”
De Mevius suffered a puncture at the start of the stage, which forced him to take it easier for the remainder, dropping eight minutes adrift of the stage winner Ferreira. The Belgian now leads Jones by just 3m19s.
In the T4 SSV class, Jeremius Gonzalez Ferioli took the stage win for South Racing, while Rokas Baciuška lost time due to two punctures.
The Red Bull Can-Am Factory Team driver still holds an overall lead of 4m34s from Marek Goczał, who finished seventh on the stage, over seven minutes down on Ferioli.
Yasir Seaidan was second quickest on the route to Riyadh, while last year’s runner-up Gerard Farres Guell was third.
Extreme E driver and past Australian Rally champion Molly Taylor put in her best stage performance of the 2023 edition with the sixth fastest time alongside Andrew Short for South Racing.