In both the Car and Bike categories, each stage of the Dakar has seen a new winner and new leader in the general standings. Stage 3, Neom to Neom, was no exception, turning up fresh winners in Carlos Sainz and Ricky Brabec, in Car and Bike respectively.
The loop circuit from the “future city” of Neom took competitors right to the border with Jordan, offering up both canyons and mountains as the rally reached its highest point, an altitude of 4600 feet. The first 65 miles was something of a slalom between the giant rocks of Wadi ash Sharmah; paralleling the border with Jordan then took them through the Jabal ash Shifa Mountains. In the final section, rocks demanded caution.
A stage win is familiar ground for Carlos Sainz (Bahrain JCW X-Raid Mini Team), who tasted victory for the 33rd time on a Dakar Rally stage and moved into the lead of the overall standings. The Spaniard finished just minutes ahead of runner-up Nasser Al-Attiyah, one of his most consistent Dakar rivals.
“It was a really nice stage, with fantastic landscapes,” said Sainz. “There wasn’t much time to (enjoy) it, but it was really nice. (Co-driver) Lucas (Cruz) did a really good job with the navigation and we really attacked hard. On the last part of the stage we were opening the way, but it was okay.
“It’s still really early though,” the Spaniard continued. “When you see racing on a day like this, anything can happen, you know. We spent a lot of time and a lot of kilometres pushing hard; but you never know — anything can happen any day.”
“No, the day was okay!” said runnerup Al-Attiyah. “We finished the stage and today was a big day. We finished second. We had one flat tire, but it was a big rock, you know? It was a good day and we’re second in the general standings overall. Tomorrow, I hope it will be a good day because I will start behind Carlos and we can get a good time.
The navigation was difficult,” he continued. “Not easy but we were really careful and we are quite happy. We just need to finish this week and then next week we can decide to push because there are a lot of dunes”.
Stage 2 winner Giniel De Villiers lost ground in Neom. The South African Toyota driver finished ninth, 16 minutes behind winner Sainz, and dropped to seventh in the general standings.
De Villiers’ Toyota GAZOO teammate Fernando Alonso enjoyed a much better day — his best day on the rally so far — finishing an untroubled fourth, just over six minutes behind countryman Sainz. The finish moved him up from 48th to 32nd in the standings.
Performance of the day? With only two Dakars under his belt and an absence of four years, Saudi Yasir Seaidan has enjoyed less of the spotlight than countryman Yazeed Al Rajhi (Overdrive Toyota). However, with his knowledge of the terrain, the X-Raid Mini driver put in a stunning performance, finishing fourth, just five minutes behind Sainz, and moving to within sight of the top 10.
Indeed, two Saudi drivers (Seaidan and Al Rajhi) finishing in the top six of a stage is unprecedented in Dakar history, and bodes well for the future of rally-raid in the Middle East.