Dakar 2021 is heading to a sensational climax following Thursday’s penultimate Day 11. KTM-mounted Briton Sam Sunderland came from a quarter-hour behind to set up a KTM versus Honda fight to the finish. He won the day to split Honda rivals Kevin Benavides in the overall standings. Nasser Al Attiyah’s Toyota made a couple of minutes on Stephane Peterhansel in the cars, but the Frenchman takes a 15 minute advantage into the final day.
The car race was a pretty straightforward affair as overall leader Peterhansel and Edouard Boulanger's Mini buggy shadowed main rivals Al Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel’s Hilux. They swapped the advantage continually, with Attiyah finally eking out a lead of almost two minutes by the end to take his sixth and Toyota’s ninth 2021 Dakar stage win.
That leaves Mr. Dakar Peterhansel poised for an incredible 14th Dakar win after leading from day 2 in spite of scoring just one stage win. Neither of the leaders was consistently quickest through the day as both Carlos Sainz and Lucaz Cruz in the other Mini and Sheikh Al Qassimi both found themselves ahead of the pack through the day.
Sainz held on for third, while Qassimi lost time, dropping back to seventh behind Yazeed Al Rajhi and Dirk von Zitzewitz’ Hilux and ahead of SA hero Giniel de Villiers and Alex Haro’s Gazoo Hilux and Vladimir Vasilyev’s Mini. SA crews Shameer Variyawa and Dennis Murphy were provisionally 15th at the time of writing as Brian Baragwanath and Taye Perry’s Century Corvette slipped down the order in the final sector.
Overall behind Peterhansel, Attiyah and Sains all alone in third, the consistent Jakub Przygonski sits a safe-looking fourth ahead of a five car fight for fifth between Nani Roma’s Hunter, Al Qassimi, Vasilyev, de Villiers and Martin Prokop’s Ford.
Day eleven was however sensational among the two wheelers. It started with Argentine Honda rider Kevin Benavides leading overall overnight by a minute, over Californian teammate and first on the road today, Thursday winner Ricky Brabec. Spaniard Joan Barreda sat ten minutes adrift on the third Honda, with KTM hope, Brit Sam Sunderland 15 minutes off the lead but in a far more favourable eighth starting position.
Brabec and Benavides held the advantage early on with KTM rider Daniel Sanders leading and Husqvarna man Pablo Quintanilla splitting the Hondas. Then Barreda had a brilliant run through the long fourth sector to jump into contention and split his teammates overall. Sunderland meanwhile took eight minutes out of Benavides’ lead. But Barreda struggled to find the fuel oasis and ran out of fuel. He was out!
Sanders meanwhile piled on the pressure as he used his favourable starting position to speed past Brabec as he closed down to just 46 seconds off Benavides’ overall lead at the final waypoint. The Argentine however enjoyed a better run home to fend the flying KTM off overall. Sunderland did enough to take his first 2021 stage from Quintanilla and Benavides, with Brabec sixth behind KTM duo Daniel Sanders and Matthias Walkner.
All of which leaves a most intriguing situation heading into the short, sharp 227 km final day with Benavides 4 minutes and 12 seconds ahead of of 2017 winner Sunderland. 2020 winner Brabec is 7:13 off the lead, but the Californian starts in a far more favourable sixth versus Benavides setting off third and Sunderland the dreaded first bike away. All of which promises a truly epic bike race to the finish!
Giovanni Enrico took the Quad win for the day ahead of overall leader Manual Andujar and Pablo Copetti, while Seth Quinteiro bounced back to lead the Light Cars from that class’ overall leader Francisco Lopez-Contardo and Kris Meeke. And Anton Shibalov was ahead of his overall Truck leading teammate Simitry Sotnikov and Aliaxei Vishneuski’s MAZ.
Friday’s final fling is a 227 km dash to Jeddah and the finish. Nothing can go wrong they say. Think again!