164 km away from victory as bike lead changes
Dakar's penultimate day of racing around the Arabian Desert town of Bisha was static among the cars. Carlos Sainz took Audi’s fourth stage as overall leader Nasser Al Attiyah guarded his 28 minute lead over Sebastien Loeb into the final day. But the bike race was dramatic. The virtual overall lead changed twice within a matter of minutes as Sam Sunderland stormed ahead, only to be pipped at the post by Kevin Benavides in the day’s final sector. Sunderland however re-took the overall lead with just 164 km left to race.
Sainz, who complained about his Audi Sport RS Q e-tron’s lack of parity before the race, and and Lucas Cruz took command of the day from the outset. Far from a lack, his pace was instead ominous for the future as he duly powered to his 42nd and the revolutionary petrol-electric machine’s second stage win on the trot. It was also Audi's fourth win in its maiden Dakar and a positive sign for the team for the future, considering the new car had never raced before.
Luciano Alvarez and Armand Monelon’s Toyota Hilux was best of the rest ahead of ever consistent rookie Audi crew Mattias Ekström and Emil Bergkvist. Nani Rome and Alex Haro’s BRX Hunter, Giniel de Villiers and Dennis Murphy’s Gazoo Hilux and Stephane Peterhansel and Edouard Boulanger’s Audi followed. Next came overall leaders, Al Attiyah and Matthieu Baumel’s Proudly South African Hilux. They took advantage of rivals Sebastien Loeb and Fabian Lurquin’s Hunter's slow final sector to open their overall lead to over 33 minutes. Which includes a bonus 5 minutes after Loeb suffered a liaison speeding penalty.
It was a good day for de Villiers and Murphy, who moved back into fifth overall behind Saudi home hero Yazeed Al Rajhi and Michael Orr’s Hilux, and Orlando Terranova and Daniel Carreras' BRX Hunter. Fellow South Africans, Shameer Variawa and Danie Stassen’s Gazoo Hilux in 12th and Brian Baragwanath and Leonard Cremer’s SA built Century CR6 provisionally 13th also had positive runs, as they continued in their fight over 14th overall.
It was less successful for Henk Lategan and Brett Cummings. They had to stop to remedy an issue on the fourth Gazoo Hilux and were running 43rd behind the Centuries of compatriots Chris Visser and Rodney Burke, and Ernest Roberts and Henry Kohne at the time of writing. Schalk Burger and Henk Janse van Vuuren followed in 50th, while SA navigators, Taye Perry was 35th, reading notes in Cyril Despres’ Peugeot and Ryan Bland 44th alongside Daniel Schroeder in their SA-built Red-Lined VK50.
The bike race began in dramatic fashion. A disastrous start saw overnight leader, Adrien van Beveren’s Yamaha lose 15 minutes in the first sector. That allowed quickest man through, Matthias Walkner’s KTM to move into the overall lead. But only until Sam Sunderland checked through and moved ahead on his Gas Gas. So Sunderland led the day and overall. But it was not to be. Reigning champion Kevin Benavides had taken his joker to rejoin after retiring with a broken engine on his KTM, and pip Sunderland by 4 seconds.
Joaquin Rodrigues' Hero was third home ahead of Walkner and Honda trio Ricky Brabec, Pablo Quintanilla and Jose Cornejo Florimo. All of them started well outside of the top ten on a day that punished the front runners. The first four away, Toby Price’s KTM ended up 28th, Luciano Benavides’ Husqvarna 26th, Juan Barreda’s Honda 21st and overnight leader van Beveren 15th. And while he led Sunderland, Quintailla and Walkner at the outset, it was all change as Sundeland led Quintailla, Walkner and van Beveren by the end of play.
Bradley Cox was best of the South Africans in 20th on his KTM and Aron Mare's Hero 25th. Original no service class quartet, Charan Moore was 40th and 4th in class, Botswana’s John Kelly 51st overall and 8th in Original, Stuart Gregory 86th and 18th in class and Werner Kennedy 97th overall and 22nd in Original. Swaziland’s Walter Terblanche was still running 88th and Mozambican Paulo Oliveira 120th. Mare starts the final day 16th, Cox 35th, Moore 34th, Kelly 45th and Gregory 64th.
Dominant quad leader Alex Giroud cruised through the stage as Marcelo Medeiros took another stage win over the seven remaining riders. UTV leader Seth Quintero won the day and side-by-side leader Austin Jones was controlling his position running fourth on the day. Truck leader Sotnikov shadowed teammates Karginov and Nikolaiev in yet another dominant Kamaz 1-2-3. All that remains after 3,830 km of racing in Dakar 2022, is the final 164 run to Jeddah on Friday. But remember, Dakar is never over, 'til it’s over!