Nasser Al Attiyah and his Gazoo Racing Toyota Hilux won his third Dakar stage on the trot as he stormed to victory over Mini man Stephane Peterhansel at Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on Wednesday. The new hero of the race, Toyota's double South African champion but Dakar rookie Henk Lategan was third. Another South African champion on two wheels, Botswana’s 'Kalahari Ferrari’ Ross Branch came home second behind Honda man Joan Barreda Bort among the motorcycles.
Carlos Sainz’s Mini was on top early on, but lost time in the second sector, leaving Lategan and Attiyah to lead the way. The young South African was 22 seconds ahead at the 218 km mark of the 337 km stage. Attiyah then surged ahead before Peterhansel put in a late charge to beat Lategan to third. Lategan and his navigator Brett Cummings have however more than just impressed with a second and a third in the last two days, against the cream of the Dakar master driver crop.
Behind top three, 9-time former World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb came home fourth aboard the all-new Hunter BRX ahead of another multiple WRC champion in Sainz. His charge back was stifled in the last sector. Pole Jakub Przygonski’s Hilux and Sheikh Al Qassimi’s Peugeot enjoyed a positive day to come home sixth and seventh.
South Africans, Giniel de Villiers’s Hilux and Brian Baragwanath and Taye Perry’s Century, both had slow last sectors to drop to 11th and 15th. Shameer Variyawa and Dennis Murphy’s fourth Gazoo Hilux was rapidly rising through the pack as they recovered from Tuesday’s issues. They looked set to break into the top 20 as we wrote.
The day was less successful for the privateer Hiluxes of Yazeed Al Rajhi, who stopped early, while Bernhard Ten Brinke did not start after his Tuesday crash. The Centurys of Saudi home hero Yazeed Seaidan and Mattieu Serradori meanwhile both lost considerable time in the dunes.
Peterhansel still leads, but now by under five minutes from Attiyah, who continues to close after a difficult opening day. Sainz is on his own, another half hour adrift. There is however a massive fight going down for fourth, with Loeb, Lategan, Przygonski and Serradori within three minutes of each other.
Spaniard Barreda won the day’s bike stage for Honda by a significant six minutes over Branch. Aussie Daniel Sanders was third for KTM ahead of Husqvarna riders Luciano Benavides and Marquis Xavier de Soultrait, and Portuguese Hero rider Joaquim de Oliveira.
His win moved Barreda up to second in the overall standings, just 15 seconds behind Soultrait and three minutes clear of Honda teammate, second Benavides brother Kevin. Multiple South African champion Branch is now up to fourth, another minute adrift with Luciano Benavides and KTM men Skyler Howes, Sam Sunderland and Toby Price next up. The top 12 bikes remain separated by just ten minutes...
While Barreda and Branch fought it out up front, unlike the nightmare that compromised Dakar 2021's bike leaders over the first three days, the top ten were within a minute after Wednesday’s second waypoint. The first machines on the road were however soon struggling as KTM men Price, Matthias Walkner and Skyler Howes, and Honda riders Ricky Brabec and Kevin Benavides struggled with navigation later on. They all lost time to once again finish well down the order.
Botswana gentleman rider, James ’the Kalahari Madala’ Alexander has meanwhile enjoyed a steady ride through the first four days on his Yamaha. That after coming home 88th of the 91 finishers on Tuesday.
In other classes, Manuel Andujar won the day on the quads from Nicholas Cavigliasso and Alexandre Giroud as Cavigliasso moved into a nine-second lead over Giroud. The Light Cars were still racing as we wrote, as Mitch Guthrie’s RB OT3 led Aran Domzala and Austin Jones' Can Ams. Andrei Kargino’s Kamaz led Siarhei Vishneuski’s MAZ and Martin Macik in an Iveco among the Trucks.
Thursday’s 456 km fifth stage from Riyadh to Al Qaisumah is a rough, tough, long and hard slog across a variety of terrains from rocks to dunes. The two week Dakar 2021 will see finishers having raced 5000 km by the finish at Jeddah, next Friday 15 January.