After navigating over 2,000km/1,200 miles of off-road terrain against the clock, the 2022 Dakar Rally has arrived at its midpoint Rest Day. At the conclusion of Stage 6 the Dakar convoy are afforded a day off before the world’s toughest race resumes on Sunday, January 9.
Holding a healthy lead in the car race at the halfway point of the rally is Nasser Al-Attiyah. The Toyota Gazoo Racing man and his co-driver Mathieu Baumel have barely put a foot wrong with their Hilux during the opening six stages.
“We are quite happy to have finished the first week of the Dakar with a good lead,” said the Qatari veteran. “I think we are in a good way. We’ve worked a lot this week, without any mistakes. The car is working very well. This is the Dakar and we will try to manage next week without any risks. For victory, it is difficult to say — the Dakar is the Dakar, but we need to be careful and we need to be strong all the way.”
French rallying legend Sebastien Loeb has done everything he can to exert maximum pressure on Al-Attiyah through the first week of the Dakar. Unfortunately for the nine-time WRC champ, he still trails the Qatari by over 50 minutes following Stage 6.
“It was a complicated day. We got lost after 100km,” admitted Loeb, who drives a Prodrive-prepared Hunter T1 for the Bahrain Raid Xtreme team, following Friday’s stage. “We lost quite a lot of time and after that we tried to push to try to close the gap again with the guys in front. I think the rhythm was good, but we lost too much time there, so now the gap, given that we’ve lost 15 minutes to Nasser again, is quite a lot. But there’s still a long way to go so we’ll continue to push, to try and do some good stages and we’ll see. I have no goal — I will try to do my best and the result will be what it is.”
Breathing down Loeb’s neck and looking to take his place on the overall podium is Kuba Przygonski. The Polish biker turned car driver has been inching up the general classification after a tricky start to the rally and now has momentum going into the second half.
“The last part of today’s stage was really nice. We were five cars together in the dunes, jumping and having fun,” Przygonski related Friday.
It’s been an eventful first week at the Dakar for Audi Sport, which at least has a stage win to celebrate thanks to Carlos Sainz. The team had the privilege of 14-time Dakar winner Stephane Peterhansel playing the role of super-domestique on Stage 6.
“We started behind our two Audi teammates, like a shadow with some spare parts. Then we saw Carlos with a broken shock absorber so we gave him a brand-new part,” explained the French veteran. “Then we met Carlos again when he had lost a wheel so we stopped to help him get that changed.”
In the T3 Light Prototype category, Chaleco Lopez is on course to make it back-to-back victories in the side-by-side categories, enjoying a comfortable 23m lead after he dominated the T4 class last year. But another star performer that has got the entire bivouac talking is 19-year-old Seth Quintero. Although the Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team driver is out of the running for the overall lead due to mechanical issues on Stage 2 the American teenager has since readjusted his goals and is aiming for a new target:
“This has probably been the most heartbreaking and rewarding week that will ever happen to me at Dakar,” Quintero said. “We’ve raced seven days now and got six wins, so we’re looking at breaking the record for most stage wins in a single Dakar.”
The bikes were racing Friday on the 423km/263-mile stage used by the cars and trucks on the previous day. The four-wheeled vehicles had churned up the terrain to such an extent the sixth bike stage was halted after 100km/62 miles due to safety concerns.
The win on the shortened stage was claimed by Australia’s Daniel Sanders of GasGas Factory Racing, who is 5m35s back from his British teammate and race leader Sam Sunderland in the general classification. Sandwiched between the GasGas riders is Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s lead man Matthias Walkner in second overall.
“It’s always good to be leading the Dakar. Even if it’s a slim advantage, it’s been the same for the past four or five days,” said Sunderland. “I had a big crash on Stage 4 that took the wind out of my sails for a little bit. I’m going to use the Rest Day to get back some energy for a big fight in the second week.”
Sanders was frustrated by the decision to curtail the stage, as he felt it denied him a chance to gain more ground.
“I got a little bit unlucky here because I didn’t get to make a big gap today. We’ll feel good after the rest day, I’m sure, reset and re-focused and I’ll go for it,” he said. “For me, there was no problem with the terrain. We’ve done many races like this and Morocco was the same. Unfortunately, a lot of riders complained. They rang the officials and complained and complained, then they called it. I was ready to start and was all fired up. The riders knew what we were in for. We knew at the start of the day that it was going to be crazy. Unfortunately, some people got the upper hand on the situation and I got the short end of the stick. It was a little bit disappointing with the decision.
“I know I’m the fastest guy out there right now, so it’s really good to know this going into the last week, coming into this rocky terrain. I know the riders are struggling in here and this is where my bike is the best, so I’m really looking forward to the next week. My enduro background and developing this bike over the last year has really helped me in riding and in how comfortable I am. I’ve worked hard for it and now it’s time to show the others that the hard work is paying off.”
Racing resumes Sunday, launching another 2,000km against the clock to be navigated in the second week of motorsports’ toughest test of endurance.
Dakar Rally standings after Stage 6:
CAR RACE TOP 5
1. N. AL-ATTIYAH (QAT) TOYOTA 20:37:24
2. Y. AL RAJHI (SAU) TOYOTA +48:54
3. S. LOEB (FRA) BRX +50:25
4. L. ALVAREZ (ARG) TOYOTA +1:06:58
5. K. PRZYGONSKI (POL) MINI +1:16:25
BIKE RACE TOP 5
1. S. SUNDERLAND (GBR) GAS GAS 19:55:59
2. M. WALKNER (AUT) KTM +02:39
3. D. SANDERS (AUS) GAS GAS +05:35
4. A. VAN BEVEREN (FRA) YAMAHA +07:43
5. P. QUINTANILLA (CHL) HONDA +17:44
TRUCK RACE TOP 5
1. D. SOTNIKOV (RUS) KAMAZ 22:25:45
2. E. NIKOLAEV (RUS) KAMAZ +10:29
3. A. SHIBALOV (RUS) KAMAZ +38:17
4. J. VAN KASTEREN (NLD) IVECO +1:04:54
5. A. LOPRAIS (CZE) PRAGA +1:06:20
LIGHTWEIGHT PROTOTYPE (T3) TOP 5
1. F. LOPEZ CONTARDO (CHL) CAN-AM 24:19:17
2. S. ERIKSSON (SWE) CAN-AM +23:09
3. C. GUTIERREZ (ESP) OT3 +2:20:16
4. F. ALVAREZ (ESP) CAN-AM +2:25:22
5. P. PINCHEDEZ (FRA) CAN-AM +2:30:24