Nasser Al-Attiyah went into the 44th Dakar Rally as a firm favorite and lived up to it, completing a dominant run to victory in Friday’s final stage of the world’s most grueling motorsport event.
The Qatari off-road ace and his co-driver Mathieu Baumel put in a masterful performance throughout the two-week marathon with their Toyota Gazoo Racing Hilux. Al-Attiyah seized the lead from the get-go and took the two specials (1A and 1B) that made up the opening stage. Meanwhile his expected tough opposition from Audi’s new hybrid withered from the outset, first when Carlos Sainz Sr. made a catastrophic navigation blunder and then the next day, Stephane Peterhansel lost one of his rear wheels and had to accept an extremely heavy penalty in order to continue.
The fight for top honors was therefore a duel between Al-Attiyah and Sebastien Loeb, but the Frenchman faltered on Stage 3 when he suffered a broken drive shaft, resulting in a 50-minute deficit by the time the rest day came around. Once firmly in command, the man who earned the nickname of “Prince of the Desert” in South America claimed his fourth Dakar title in the Middle East, next door to his home country, to go with his victories from 2011, 2015 and 2019. His final margin of 27m46s was carefully managed over the second half of the event.
“It was an incredible Dakar for us. We’re pleased with the new T1+ regulations,” beamed Al-Attiyah afterward. “There were three solid teams capable of winning. Matthieu and I, the team, we all did a good job to win. We had finished second every time since we came to Saudi Arabia two years ago, now we’re really happy to achieve our goal.
“Toyota Gazoo Racing did a fantastic job in the span of a year by building this new car. The whole race went without a hitch. We opened up a gap on the first day and have since managed our lead. We’re really happy, and I reckon we’ll start thinking of the next Dakar in a week or 10 days. We’re fortunate to get to race the Dakar in Saudi Arabia, and I would like to thank the government for this opportunity to discover such breathtaking landscapes.”
Loeb can find solace in the stellar performance of his BRX Hunter, but like in 2017, when he came up short in his duel with Peterhansel, he had to settle for runner-up honors. Al-Attiyah’s teammate Yazeed Al-Rajhi inserted himself in the Franco-Qatari battle several times and proved that he is a force to be reckoned with on home turf, claiming third overall.
Prodrive can be pleased to have Orlando Terranova’s Hunter in fourth place, the best result of his career in a car after 14 starts. In contrast, the Mini X-raid buggy seems to have been left in the dust by the new generation of T1+ cars, with Jakub Przygooski slipping down two places to sixth. Giniel De Villiers came in fifth to claim his 18th top-10 finish at Dakar. Also in the top 10 was Mathieu Serradori in his Century (ninth). Mattias Ekstrom’s 10th place overall capped Audi’s impressive comeback performance that should stand it in good stead for next year.
SSV: Jones rebounds on final day
America has a new champion at Dakar, as Austin Jones rebounded from a problematic Thursday to secure the SSV win on the final day after a consistent two-week run that outlasted flashier competitors.
The Polish posse won no fewer than nine out of the 13 specials up for grabs (including 1B), with Marek Goczal the most prolific stage hunter, with six wins to his name, followed by his brother Michal with two and Aron Domzala with one. Yet not one of them stood on the final podium. Endurance races like the Dakar require a high level of consistency and learning to walk before you run. The Polish armada ignored this rule and paid the price in the shape of subdued performances and mechanical woes.
Jones, on the other hand, flew under the radar. The 25-year-old American seemed on the cusp of victory several times but never quite got there, although he did finish on the podium when he needed to turn the tables on opponents such as rookie Rodrigo Luppi de Oliveira. The Brazilian topped the overall before running into mechanical trouble, the same fate that would befall Gerard Farres, Jones’s teammate at South Racing, in the last special. Although the Spaniard started the stage in command, an electrical problem cost him just enough time for Jones to take the crown by 2m37s.
“I told you that would happen, that it was going to come down to the very end, and that’s exactly what it did,” declared Jones. “We had a pretty clean day today — I drove as hard as I could. We got a couple of mistakes here and there, but overall, obviously we got it done and we made it. This is crazy. Shout out to my navigator Gustavo Gugelmin, who for 13 days straight has been great. The whole team, South Racing, Scott… it takes the whole team.
“We knew we had a 1m41s gap coming in this morning. The liaison helped to relax. I just knew what we had to do — we had a goal, and we went for it. It means everything — this is what we’ve trained for for three years now. To get it done on the last day like this is a perfect ending to a really great story!”
Farres had to settle for second place ahead of promising rookie, Rokas Baciuska. In the same vein as Jones, the Lithuanian made little noise before bursting onto the scene with a win in stage 10 and another one in the closing special two days later. His consistency propelled him to the third step of the podium in his very first Dakar start.
Bikes: Sunderland breaks back
In contrast to the car ranks, the bike category was an up-and-down-battle this year with numerous changes at the top. The final margin of 3m27s between Sam Sunderland and Pablo Quintanilla at the finish line in Jeddah was the slimmest at the top of the leader board since 1994, and ended a winning drought for the veteran British rider stretching back to 2017.
Initially, Sunderland stayed in the shadow of his flamboyant GasGas teammate, Daniel Sanders. However, Sanders threw it all away after dominating the first week, sent home by a crash while exiting the bivouac in Riyadh. Sunderland defended the overall lead for four days without winning any specials. Meanwhile, former champions Ricky Brabec, Toby Price and Kevin Benavides were forced into comeback mode after flopping in the opening stages. Only Matthias Walkner, also a previous winner, and Adrien Van Beveren were able to match Sunderland blow for blow. In the end, Sunderland held on to make GasGas the sixth motorcycle constructor to win Dakar.
“I honestly can’t be happier. This last stage was so difficult and so much stress… A lot of navigation, a lot of tricky notes, a few times a bit confusing and not sure I was going the right way. Phew!” said the relieved Sunderland. “The last 10 minutes, I was not sure whether I’d won; now they’ve told me and, wow, dream come true. Even to listen to you say it brings a little bit of emotion there. I had a pretty rough season, but when you win the Dakar, it’s all worth it. So nice.”
Lightweight prototypes: “Chaleco” cruises to double as Quintero stars
By switching to this category after winning the T4 race in 2021, Francisco “Chaleco” Lopez set himself up for a confrontation with the OT3-Red Bull armada, which had already claimed the lion’s share of the specials last year without making an impact on the general standings. However, a barrage of mechanicals soon plagued the American team, knocking Seth Quintero, Cristina Gutierrez and Guillaume De Mevius out of contention and leaving the field clear for South Racing, with their solid Chilean captain at the helm. Lopez reached the rest day with 25 minutes in hand over his young teammate, Sebastian Eriksson.
Lopez had no incentive to risk it all chasing stage wins, unlike the vivacious Quintero. No longer in the mix for the title after spending almost an entire night in stage 2, the 19-year-old Californian finally achieved a high degree of consistency at the highest level. With 12 victories in 13 specials, Quintero will keep Dakar geeks busy comparing his feat to Pierre Lartigue’s 11 stage wins in 1994 (counting all car categories).
“These two weeks went pretty smoothly. It was a completely different scenario compared to last year, when I had to go flat out every day without fail,” noted Lopez. “After Stage 2 we held a considerable lead, so we just needed to focus on making it to the finish day after day. I’m really happy that our strategy worked out. It was a test of endurance — we had to avoid breakdowns. After all that, victory tastes really sweet.”
Quads: Giroud perseveres
Alexandre Giroud emerged victorious from a classic Dakar war of attrition in the quad class. Near the start, the Frenchman watched as the flashy performances of other riders turned out to be a flash in the pan. Pablo Copetti, on the other hand, grasped that the Dakar is an endurance race. The Argentinian-American and Giroud locked horns in the second week as Copetti launched assault after assault on the Frenchman’s lead. In the end, it was Copetti who bent the knee after a broken engine in stage 10 put paid to his chances.
Giroud now had a clear path to Jeddah Corniche, where he wanted to pay tribute to his father, Daniel, who became the first quad rider to finish the Dakar back in 1997. Racing in a league of his own for much of the rally, Giroud Jr. dominated the standings by 2h21m over his Drag’On stablemate, Spain’s Francisco Moreno.
Trucks: All Kamaz all the time
The Russian Kamaz truck team has never shied away from its status as Dakar favorites. It has racked up 18 victories with six different drivers since 2000 and extended its hegemony in Saudi Arabia this year.
— DAKAR RALLY (@dakar) January 14, 2022
Each of the four men at the wheels of the blue trucks claimed at least one stage, leaving nothing for the competition. Reigning champion Dmitry Sotnikov defended his title and led a Kamaz 1-2-3-4. He won the rally with 9m58s to spare over his teammate and four-time Dakar champion Eduard Nikolaev, who took his eighth podium spot in 10 starts as a driver. Janus van Kasteren was the best of the rest in fifth place, over an hour behind the last Kamaz.
You know it! @AlAttiyahN wins the Dakar once again!
— DAKAR RALLY (@dakar) January 14, 2022
CAR1. N. AL-ATTIYAH (QAT) TOYOTA 38:33:03 2. S. LOEB (FRA) BRX +27:46 3. Y. AL RAJHI (SAU) TOYOTA +1:01:13 4. O. TERRANOVA (ARG) BRX +1:27:23 5. G. DE VILLIERS (ZAF) TOYOTA +1:41:48 6. K. PRZYGONSKI (POL) MINI +1:53:06 9. M. EKSTROM (SWE) AUDI +2:42:11 12. C. SAINZ (ESP) AUDI +3:39:21 19. C. DESPRES (FRA) PEUGEOT +4:58:22 23. L. SANZ (ESP) MINI +6:18:56 59. S. PETERHANSEL (FRA) AUDI +68:12:13 LIGHTWEIGHT PROTOTYPE (T3) 1. F. LOPEZ CONTARDO (CHL) CAN-AM 45:50:51 2. S. ERIKSSON (SWE) CAN-AM +51:28 3. C. GUTIERREZ (ESP) OT3 +4:34:43 4. S. NAVARRO (ESP) CAN-AM +5:11:35 5. P. LEBEDEV (RUS) CAN-AM +5:52:14 16. S. QUINTERO (USA) OT3 +14:38:21 BIKE 1. S. SUNDERLAND (GBR) GAS GAS 38:47:30 2. P. QUINTANILLA (CHL) HONDA +03:27 3. M. WALKNER (AUT) KTM +06:47 4. A. VAN BEVEREN (FRA) YAMAHA +18:41 5. J. BARREDA (ESP) HONDA +25:42 10. T. PRICE (AUS) KTM +49:20 12. S. SVITKO (SVK) KTM +58:17 19. C. CHAPELIERE (FRA) KTM +2:39:30 37. M. BALOOSHI (UAE) HUSQVARNA +6:31:18 39. M. JAFFAR (KWT) KTM +7:57:36 90. D. PETRUCCI (ITA) KTM +20:42:04 101. K. BENAVIDES (ARG) KTM +23:52:59 TRUCK 1. D. SOTNIKOV (RUS) KAMAZ 41:37:34 2. E. NIKOLAEV (RUS) KAMAZ +09:58 3. A. SHIBALOV (RUS) KAMAZ +1:11:11 4. A. KARGINOV (RUS) KAMAZ +1:49:55 5. J. VAN KASTEREN (NLD) IVECO +3:08:30