Demonstrating the patience and consistency have been that have been his hallmark through this year’s running of the Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia, Stephane Peterhansel added to his all-time win record at the marathon rally-raid by securing his 14th career triumph on Friday’s final stage.
X-Raid MINI JCW buggy driver Peterhansel, who went into the 12th special from Yanba to the finish line in Jeddah with a comfortable 17m lead over Nasser Al-Attiyah, tread cautiously over the final 200km/124-mile sprint from Yanbu to the finish line in Jeddah, but still came home third on the stage behind teammate and last year’s champion Carlos Sainz and Al-Attiyah. The Toyota Gazoo Racing driver made up just under three minutes with his Hilux pick-up, but Peterhansel had plenty in hand to wind up with a 13m51s margin over the Qatari for the event that covered some 4700 miles of special stages through the scenic but treacherous Saudi desert.
“It’s still the same emotion for the 14th victory,” declared the 55-year-old Frenchman, whose first Dakar win came on a bike 30 years ago. “There are no easy victories on the Dakar. This one from the outside maybe looked easy, but it was not easy every day to manage the small gap over Nasser. There was a lot of pressure. We felt every day that we had everything to lose, so it was complicated to manage, but in the end we did a really good job together with Edouard (Boulanger, navigator) for his first race in a top car. It was a really incredible job, with good navigation, but also he was really calm.
“For sure, it is one or two more records for me: 14 victories, on three continents and also on the anniversary of my first victory 30 years ago today. It’s a long career in motorsport. Experience and being able to stay calm helped to win, I think, but I don’t know… The difference was probably that Nasser made the first mistake on the prologue. He won the prologue and I think it was his first mistake. He probably lost the Dakar because he wanted to win the prologue.”
Al-Attiyah felt he had done the best he could, but after finishing 2m13s behind Sainz on the final stage, he took a few last shots at the organizers for allowing buggies like the MINI to compete head to head with 4×4 trucks like his Toyota.
“I would like to thank the team. We did an amazing job with no mistakes from me, my co-pilot or the team. We worked very, very hard,” he declared. “What can we do? This is the second year that we are fighting against the buggies. For me we only need to change the rules for it to be fair for everybody — that’s it.
“I am sure we will come back stronger next year and we can obtain victory. Of course I’m more disappointed than last year, because if you only have four fingers and not five fingers like everybody else, it does not help. I think we need to change the rule against the buggies because now the buggies have been winning for five years against the 4×4 cars. There is no question, it is not a fair rule. I hope the organizers will change it, otherwise we won’t be interested in coming.”
In the bike category, Monster Energy Honda reigned supreme as Kevin Benavides (pictured above) secured the overall win, following home teammate and last year’s champion Ricky Brabec on the final stage. America’s Brabec, in fact, moved up to second in the final standings, 4m56s behind, as Red Bull KTM rider Sam Sunderland’s late bid for a comeback win faltered on the final stage. The Briton finished a disappointing 11th to drop to third overall after missing a waypoint amid the dunes and losing 10m.
“It was absolutely crazy,” related the disbelieving Benavides, who is the first South American to win the category. “I started third and after 50 kilometers I was in front opening the stage. I feel that everything was complicated, because Ricky started to catch up with me. I started to push a lot, all day, and stayed focused, so I did a good job today. I’ve won the Dakar — I’m so, so happy!
— DAKAR RALLY (@dakar) January 15, 2021
“I did some mistakes, for sure. I think it’s impossible to do a perfect Dakar. The important thing is to always continue, to stay calm and focused day by day and to work hard day by day. On stage 5 I was worried, because I crashed so fast and hit my head and my ankle and felt a lot of pain. On that day I said maybe the Dakar is finished for me. But I continued pushing. Now I still have some pain, but at the moment I am more happy than in pain, so it’s no problem! You couldn’t think of winning during this Dakar, you had to keep focused. You don’t think, you just concentrate on the action and nothing else, because everything can change in one second.”
South Americans also took home the wins in the lightweight vehicle and quad categories, as Chile’s Francisco “Chaleco” Lopez held off America’s Austin Green (both riding Can-Ams) by 17m23s for his second class win in three years, while Argentina’s Manuel Andujar led home Chilean Giovanni Enrico by 33m44s for his first Dakar triumph.
😍 That Friday feeling… And that "winning the Dakar feeling"!
— DAKAR RALLY (@dakar) January 15, 2021
The truck category was dominated throughout by the Kamaz Master team and particularly by Dmitry Sotnikov, who led the rally without interruption from the finish of the first stage. It was the 18th win for Kamaz, but the first for Sotnikov.
“It was the best race in my career,” enthused the Russian. “It was my dream and many years of work since my first Dakar in 2014, and finally we have won it. Last year we had a failure due to a big stone, but this year everything was good. I think it was a team job, not just me — I was just the driver, it was the whole team. I’m happy to drive this truck because it is the best truck in the world.”
While some competitors, notably last year’s winner Sainz, expressed unhappiness with the way this year’s event was run in terms of complex navigational requirements, Sotnikov clearly reveled in the challenge and suggested the rally-raid has found an ideal new home in Saudi Arabia.
“It wasn’t an easy race and I think this Dakar was harder than the previous ones,” he said. “The last stages, like today and yesterday, were really hard. We’re looking forward to the next race here — it is good place for the Dakar, I think.”