Dakar Rally: Carlos Sainz & Lucas Cruz lead as racing resumes after rest day

Dakar Rally: Carlos Sainz & Lucas Cruz lead  as racing resumes after rest day

Team Audi Sport’s Carlos Sainz and Lucas Cruz led the 46th Dakar Rally by 20min 21sec at the traditional rest day in Riyadh after six gruelling special stages through the deserts of Saudi Arabia.


The opening round of the 2024 FIA World Rally-Raid Championship (W2RC) has been one of the most difficult in recent memory with the outright lead changing four times during the opening week. Four-time champion Sainz has yet to win a stage but a clever strategy and consistent driving have seen the Spaniard in contention on every stage from the start in Al-Ula on January 5th to the day of rest in Riyadh on Saturday.

Starting 17th on the road for the punishing 48-hour push through the Empty Quarter on stage six paid dividends and Sainz has guided his Audi RS Q E-Tron E2 to a useful cushion over Swedish team-mates Mattias Ekström and Emil Bergkvist.

The Spaniard said: “I think we managed to do a good job. At the end (stage six) I had a problem and got stuck in one place. We lost some minutes, but we are happy at the moment. If you asked before this week, would we be leading I would say I am happy. But there is still a long way to go. It’s still very open”.

With the third-placed crew of Sébastien Loeb and Fabian Lurquin not registered for the W2RC on this occasion in their BRX Prodrive Hunter, Toyota Gazoo Racing’s third-stage winner Lucas Moraes heads the challenge for W2RC points with his Spanish co-driver Armad Monleón in fourth place, despite rolling in stage five.

Overdrive Racing’s Guillaume de Mévius and Xavier Panseri won the opening stage and are well-placed in fifth overall after an impressive first week in the desert.

Behind South African veteran and 2009 event winner Giniel de Villiers, the Czech duo of Martin Prokop and Viktor Chytka have guided their Orlen Jipocar Team Ford Raptor to seventh overall and fifth of the registered W2RC crews. Frenchman Mathieu Serradori is the leading two-wheel drive entrant in eighth with his Century CR6-T and the Challenger category-leading Eryk Goczal and Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Guy Botterill round off the top 10. Overdrive’s Guerlain Chicherit is 11th after suffering motion sickness in the dunes on stage six.

Last year’s W2RC runner-up Yazeed Al-Rajhi and his co-driver Timo Gottschalk led the event for three days in a Toyota Hilux but the Saudi’s dream of winning the Dakar for the first time ended with a high-speed crash after 51km of the sixth stage through the Empty Quarter.

The car ended up badly damaged after the crash and the uninjured crew were transported back to the bivouac in Shubaytah, although Al-Rajhi had earned 14 W2RC points during the first week. “After 51 kilometres, everything was okay on a very fast chott and we were at full speed when I hit something,” said the Saudi. “The car did a barrel roll and now it is damaged.”

Likewise, five-time winner Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and co-driver Mathieu Baumel saw their chance of winning ruined further into the same stage. The Qatari was on a charge in his Prodrive Hunter running under his Nasser Racing banner and looked set to take the lead after Al-Rajhi’s accident. But he broke the steering during the last 50km of the 48-hour stage six, lost over two and a half hours and slipped back to 16th overall and 11th of the W2RC entrants. He also amassed 14 W2RC points during the first week of the Dakar.

Al-Attiyah said: “It was not a good day. On the last 50 kilometres we broke the steering and we couldn’t do anything to repair. We waited for our assistance truck to come, we fixed it and then got to the finish. Everything is not finished, but now we’ll try to play for the World Championship. I will also try to help Seb (Loeb), to be behind him. At least he can win this Dakar. I will do my best for him to win because we are a team”.

Outside the top 10, Overdrive Racing’s Denis Krotov and Eugenio Amos hold 15th and 23rd, Cristian Baumgart guided his X Rally Team Hunter to 16th and 14-time event winner Stéphane Peterhansel was classified in 22nd in the third of the Team Audi Sport E-trons with co-driver Edouard Boulanger after hydraulic jack issues, a puncture and power steering failure on the first part of stage six. The Frenchman had the scant consolation of winning stage two to equal Ari Vatanen’s number of 50 Dakar stage wins on four wheels.

Stage three was a difficult one for the X-Raid Mini JCW Team after a solid start. Krzysztof Holowczyc took avoiding action to avoid a biker, clouted a stone, broke the suspension and was forced to wait for assistance, while Pau Navarro destroyed a wheel and the suspension on his Mini JCW Rally Plus after an accident and retired. Holowczyc made progress back through the field, despite back pain, until he was involved in a low-speed collision with Kris Meeke’s OT3 in the dunes on stage six.

Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Seth Quintero and Dennis Zenz stopped on the fourth stage with engine issues and were ruled out of challenging for the win after changing the engine block and incurring massive time penalties.

Neither Joan ‘Nani’ Roma nor his South African team-mate Gareth Woolridge are registered for the W2RC in a two-car team of M-Sport Ford Rangers and they have experienced mixed fortunes during the first week. Roma holds an excellent 13th overall but Woolridge was forced to replace broken suspension in the fourth stage and dropped down the rankings.

Young Eryk Goczal dominates Challenger race

Young Eryk Goczal won the T4 category at the Dakar Rally in 2023 and the Krakow driver is dominating the Challenger class after six stages in his Energylandia Rally Team Taurus T3M. He also lies ninth in the general classification.

Goczal and Spanish co-driver Oriol Mena won the Prologue and four of the six stages and have led the event from the start. The Pole heads into the second week with a comfortable 1hr 02min 18sec cushion over the American duo of Mitch Guthrie and Kellon Walch in a Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team Factory Team Taurus T3. Goczal also has 28 W2RC Challenger points to his name.

Speaking after completing the sixth stage, Goczal said: “That was the most difficult stage of my life. It was crazy. I will not remember the sleeping part of the marathon but the driving part, because we did eight hours which is the longest I’ve ever done. I’m going to give it to Oriol because everybody was lost with the navigation and I wasn’t sure where to go. In big canyons where it was difficult to climb, he was just sitting there pointing with his hand saying, “we have to go this way” different to everybody else…”

Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team driver Cristina Gutiérrez (Taurus) and former winner Francisco Lopez (Can-Am) are not registered for the W2RC but hold third and fourth overall at the rest day. American Austin Jones is registered for the championship and the defending T3 (Challenger) champion holds fifth in his Can-Am after a difficult opening week in the desert. He and co-driver Gustavo Gugelmin are 1hr 50min 12sec behind the leaders.

Goczal’s uncle Michal holds sixth with co-driver Szymon Gospodarczyk in the second of the Energylandia Taurus T3Ms, Lithuania’s Rokas Baciuška is seventh in a factory Can-Am after punctures and brake issues and Argentina’s Nicolas Cavigliasso (Taurus), Ricardo Porém (MMP) and local driver Saleh Al-Saif (OT3) round off the top 10.

Local driver Yasir Seaidan leads SSV category

Saudi Arabian driver Yasir Seaidan and his French navigator Michael Metge snatched the outright lead in the SSV category with the second quickest time on the sixth stage. The Can-Am Maverick duo head into the second week with a lead of 8min 08sec and 25 W2RC SSV points.

The lead swapped hands on five occasions during the course of the first week, with Xavier de Soultrait winning the Prologue and stages five and six in a Polaris, Rodrigo Varela leading after winning stage one, Spaniard Gerard Farrés snatching the advantage for three days after winning stage two and Jérôme de Sadeleer moving to the top of the standings after stage five before third-stage winner Seaidan took over at the front into Riyadh.

The South Racing Can-Am duo of Sara Price and Jeremy Gray hold second overall with De Soultrait and Martin Bonnet classified in third, although the former Yamaha motorbike rider is not registered for the W2RC in his Sébastien Loeb Racing-Bardahl Team Polaris.

Pre-event favourite João Ferreira (Can-Am) and Filipe Palmeiro won the fourth stage on their way to a similar position in the rankings and hold second in the W2RC SSV points’ standings (19), de Sadeleer is fifth and the FN Speed Team duo of Sebastian Guayasamin and Fernando Acosta are sixth.

Brazil’s Cristiano de Sousa Batista (Can-Am), Florent Vayssade (Polaris), early leader Farrés and French veteran Claude Fournier round off the top 10 in Riyadh.

Next week

Action resumes on the run west and then due north towards bivouacs in Al-Duwadimi and Hail today and tomorrow.

Competitors will then cross the An-Nafud desert and the northwestern regions of Saudi Arabia en route to the final three stages between Al-Ula and the finish in Yanbu on the Red Sea on January 19th.

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