Stéphane Peterhansel clinched his 14th career Dakar Rally victory, seeing off Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Nasser Al-Attiyah’s challenge as the crews arrived back in Jeddah after 12 days of racing.
It is Peterhansel’s eighth win in the car category – after six on a bike – and comes 30 years after his maiden Dakar victory in 1991.
Al-Attiyah won the most stages, five in total including the prologue, versus Peterhansel’s one but suffered a spate of punctures throughout the rally, severely denting his chances of taking a fourth Dakar victory.
The lead battle ebbed and flowed throughout the rally, held entirely in Saudi Arabia for the second year in a row, but Peterhansel and his X-raid Mini JCW stayed largely out of trouble to win by a margin of 14 minutes 51 seconds.
Defending winner Carlos Sainz, team-mate to Peterhansel, finished a distant third after an up-and-down event in which he won three stages – including the final test – amid severe navigational issues.
Having set the pace in the opening Jeddah prologue, Al-Attiyah struggled as road opener in the first proper stage of the rally as the 64 competitors made their way to Bisha. On this stage, it was Peterhansel and Sainz who went tooth-and-nail for the honors, with Sainz striking the first blow by 25 seconds.
Al-Attiyah, on the other hand, lost 12 minutes after suffering the first of more than 16 punctures over the course of the rally and sat 12th at the end of day one.
The Toyota Gazoo Racing driver – and three-time winner – is known for his prowess in the sandy tracks of the Dakar and launched his fightback with immediate effect on stage two, and duly claimed the next two stage wins as the crews arrived in the capital city of Riyadh on day four.
By this point, Sainz’s rally had started to unravel. The Spaniard, alongside co-driver Lucas Cruz, encountered navigational issues on stage three (the Wadi Ad-Dawasir loop), losing 31 minutes as the now-permanent electronic roadbook handed out 15 minutes before each stage confused Cruz.
Things got worse for Sainz two stages later on the way from Riyadh to Al Qaisumah when another 15 minutes were lost due to more navigational woes.
That had allowed Peterhansel and Al-Attiyah to focus more on each other out front as Sainz was now a mammoth 49 minutes adrift of the leading pair even before the halfway point, which took place in Ha’il after stage six.
Peterhansel took a seven-minute lead into the rest day while local driver Yazeed Al Rajhi and co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz (Overdrive Racing Toyota Hilux) took their first stage win on the Dakar since 2015 on Sunday’s seventh stage from Ha’il to Sakaka.
Al Rajhi had been one of the dark horses for the overall victory, having shone on the Ha’il Baja a month prior. But the former World Rally Championship driver was plagued with bad luck and mechanical misery in the first week on home soil (and sand), breaking his gearbox on stage four and requiring a rebuild with the help of his assistance truck.
Navigational problems on stages three and five – the latter won by TGR’s Giniel de Villiers – meant he was 28th overall and five hours off the pace by the rest day.
Indeed, navigational issues caused frustration among many of the top contenders, and ultimately led to event organizer the ASO shortening stage six to give crews enough time to make it back to the bivouac before the cut-off time on the rest day.
The second week proved much better and a second stage win on the Neom-Al-Ula test and a further two top-five finishes took him to the verge of the top 10 before yet more issues on the final stage.
Peterhansel suffered his first issues of the rally in week two on the second part of the Marathon Stage, in which no outside mechanical assistance is permitted in an attempt to level the playing field among professional and amateur crews.
His Mini’s wheel rim was broken and the suspension damaged after hitting a rock towards the end of the Sakaka-Neom test, costing him five minutes in the stage and three minutes overall to his Toyota rival.
But any chances of Al-Attiyah closing even more on Peterhansel were seriously affected when the Qatari suffered three more punctures on the very next stage, where Peterhansel took his first stage win of 2021.
From then on in, it was a case of managing the gap at the front for Peterhansel, who punctured twice one more on the penultimate stage, and saw his 17-minute advantage negated to 15 by the final test on Friday.
The big return of Sébastien Loeb to the Dakar after missing last year’s edition in order to prepare for the Monte Carlo Rally had promised a lot, especially with the nine-time WRC champion at the wheel of the new Prodrive-run Bahrain Raid Xtreme Hunter BRX1.
In his own words, it was “hell” from the start as he suffered three punctures and a time loss of 22 minutes.
He then received a five-minute time penalty for speeding in a controlled zone, a decision he labeled as evidence of “incompetence” afterwards.
Their rally eventually ended in retirement after suspension damage on stage six and two more punctures and mechanical damage to the assistance truck.
Several others also hit dramas, including Al-Attiyah’s debuting TGR team-mate Henk Lategan who fractured his collarbone in a nasty crash on stage five.
The reigning double South African Cross-Country Rally champion had recorded two top-three stage times prior to his crash.
Another Toyota Hilux, that of Overdrive Racing’s Bernhard Ten Brinke, was also forced out after rolling on stage three.
Off the podium, Overdrive Racing’s Jakub Przygónski finished a strong fourth in his Hilux, 2h36m03s behind Peterhansel, while Roma gave the Bahrain team something to cheer about with fifth overall.
X-raid Team’s Vladimir Vasilyev was the highest-place MINI 4×4 in seventh, just seven seconds behind Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi’s Peugeot 3008DKR, having taken 1m03s out of the Abu Dhabi Racing driver on the last stage
De Villiers, who suffered more than 18 recorded punctures throughout the event, was eighth.
Martin Prokop was ninth in his privately entered Orlen Benzina Team Ford Raptor RS, ahead of Cyril Desprès and explorer and climate activist Mike Horn in their Peugeot 3008DKR.
First Honda one-two in bikes since 1987
Kevin Benevides gave Honda its second consecutive bike category victory after ending KTM’s 18-year run in 2020. The Argentinian beat defending winner and Honda team-mate Ricky Brabec by just under five minutes while Britain’s Sam Sunderland completed the podium on his KTM.
Several victory challengers fell by the wayside, including double winner Toby Price after he came off his KTM on stage nine and injured an arm and leg. Yamaha’s Ross Branch was another to drop out, as did Jose Ignacio Cornejo and Joan Barreda Bort.
The rally was marred, however, by the death of an amateur biker in the “Malle Moto” category, Pierre Cherpin who crashed on the seventh stage from Ha’il to Sakaka. He was placed in an induced coma but succumbed to his injuries on the final morning.
The quads category was won by Argentinian Manuel Andujar on his MX Devesa by Berta-run Yamaha.
Lopez Contardo beats Jones to SSV win
In the SSV category, South Racing’s Francisco Lopez Contardo came out on top in an enthralling T4 class battle with Monster Energy Can-Am’s Austin Jones, while American teenage sensation Seth Quintero claimed the Lightweight Prototype victory in his Red Bull Off-Road Junior OT3.
Lopez Contardo assumed the class lead on the second stage, holding a slender 39-second advantage over Aron Domzala before dropping almost three minutes on stage four. He was back in front on the next stage but suffered mechanical dramas on the sixth test.
Still, Lopez Contardo was the one to beat and duly took victory from Jones by 17 minutes.
Former Citröen and Toyota WRC driver Kris Meeke claimed two stage wins – the prologue and the final run into Jeddah – to make the finish on his first Dakar appearance. The five-time WRC rally winner and Wouter Rosegaar brought their PH Sport Zephyr T3.1 home 85 hours behind the winner after suffering a number of mechanical issues throughout.
Sotnikov claims maiden win as Kamaz dominates again
The factory Kamaz trucks completed another clean-sweep of the podium places in the truck category, with Dmitry Sotkinov taking his first Dakar victory, alongside Ruslan Akhmadeev and Ilgiz Akhmetzianov. The trio, who finished fourth last year, came home just under 40 minutes ahead of 2020 runners-up Anton Shibalov, Dmitrii Nikitin and Ivan Tatarinov.
Airat Mardeev, Dmitriy Svistunov and Akhmet Galiautdinov finished third, with the first non-Kamaz, the Big Shock Racing Iveco of Czech trio Martin Macik, Frantisek Tomasek and David Svanda 1h45m51s back in fourth.
Stage 12 (Yanbu – Jeddah) result
1 Carlos Sainz/Lucas Cruz (X-raid Mini JCW) 2h17m33s
2 Nasser Al-Attiyah/Mathieu Baumel (Toyota Gazoo Racing) +2m13s
3 Stéphane Peterhansel/Edouard Boulanger (X-raid Mini JCW) +2m53s
4 Cyril Desprès/Mike Horn (Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot) +4m01s
5 Vladimir Vasilyev/DmitroTsyro (X-raid Mini JCW) + 5m36s
6 Jakub Przygónski/Dirk von Zitzewitz (Overdrive Racing Toyota) +6m35s
7 Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi/Xavier Panseri (Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot) +6m39s
8 Mathieu Serradori/Fanian Lurquin (SRT Racing Century) +6m51s
9 Giniel de Villiers/Alex Haro Bravo (Toyota Gazoo Racing) +7m39s
10 Nani Roma/Alex Winocq (Bahrain Raid Xtreme) +9m48s
Final result after stage 12
1 Peterhansel/Boulanger (X-raid Mini JCW) 44h27m11s
2 Al-Attiyah/Baumel (Toyota Gazoo Racing) +14m51s
3 Sainz/Cruz (X-raid Mini JCW) +1h01m57s
4 Przygónski/Gottschalk (Overdrive Racing Toyota) +2h36m03s
5 Roma/Winocq (Bahrain Raid Xtreme Hunter) +3h22m48s
6 Al Qassimi/ Panseri (Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot) +3m29m31s
7 Vasilyev/Tsyro (X-raid Mini JCW) +3h29m38s
8 de Villiers/Haro (Toyota Gazoo Racing) +3h58m39s
9 Martin Prokop/Viktor Chytka (Orlen Team Ford) +4h10m21s
10 Desprès/Horn (Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot) +4h50m09s