The relentless pace of the Dakar Rally continued on Wednesday’s Stage 4 with nearly 500 kilometers/310 miles against the clock. The convoy of competitors were taken over camel grass, dropped into desert canyons and forced to scale sand dunes. Once all these obstacles had been cleared the loop concluded right where it had started, at the Dakar bivouac in Ha’il.
A ding-dong battle played out in the car race between Dakar heavyweights Sebastien Loeb/Fabian Lurquin and Stephane Peterhansel/Edouard Boulanger. Both crews led the stage at various points during the day before nine-time WRC winner Loeb in his BRX (pictured above) got over the line 13 seconds quicker than 14-time Dakar winner Peterhansel.
“We tried to push really hard on this stage. We were on full attack all the time,” said Loeb, who lifted himself to 14th overall after a problematic first few stages.
Peterhansel was joined on the stage podium by fellow Team Audi Sport driver Carlos Sainz as the Spaniard put his foot down in an attempt to recover some of the 45 minutes lost yesterday repairing a suspension cup.
It was smooth sailing for the man that they’re now all trying to catch, Nasser Al-Attiyah. The Qatari and his co-driver Mathieu Baumel now have a gap of 18m18s to their nearest rival in the general classification.
“This was definitely not an easy stage. We were off piste a lot and in so much camel grass. We got one flat tire and after we tried to push.” related Al-Attiyah.
The best-placed rookie in the car race continues to be Lucas Moraes who has taken his Toyota Hilux to sixth overall alongside co-driver Timo Gottschalk.
“This was my best Dakar stage. It was really fast and really awesome. It was amazing to see how well the car handles when you’re going fast,” said Toyota driver Moraes.
America’s Mason Klein looked headed for his first stage win in the bike category, only to have fuel pump issues just 20km from the finish, handing the stage win to Joan Barradea Bort. Daniel Sanders opened the stage for the bikes and by the time he reached the finish line he had leapt from second overall to first place. The GASGAS rider’s road book reading skills were tested by a track that had been drastically altered by last night’s heavy rainfall. American factory Husqvarna rider Skyler Howes is now second overall to Sanders, just 3m33s behind, to bolster American chances in the division that took a hit when Ricky Brabec crashed out of the race on Tuesday. Although he was checked out at a local hospital after experiencing neck pain, his Honda team confirmed that Brabec suffered no fractures in the incident.
Staying in close attendance to Sanders at the front of the two-wheeled contest are Red Bull KTM Factory Racing riders Kevin Benavides and Toby Price. Benavides is third overall, just four minutes back from Sanders. Price is only a further three minutes behind his KTM teammate.
“The dunes were very heavy because of all the rain we’ve had, they were kind of sucking the bike into the sand,” noted Price.
There was another T3 stage win for the Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team USA presented by BFGoodrich thanks to Mitch Guthrie Jr. and co-driver Kellon Walch. This duo now lead the T3 overall rankings, followed by Guillaume De Mevius/François Cazalet in second and Austin Jones/Gustavo Gugelmin in third.
“They took us up a lot of big dunes on this stage,” marveled Guthrie. “My co-rider Kellon and me had to work really well together to decide which dunes to climb and which ones to go around.”
— DAKAR RALLY (@dakar) January 4, 2023
Elsewhere in the T3 contest there have been significant time losses for a number of race crews who came to Saudi Arabia with ambitions of winning. Seth Quintero/Denniz Zenz suffered a lost wheel, losing power steering and running out of fuel before battling to the finish line. Quintero’s mission for the rest of the rally is clear — recover the 80 minutes lost today over the 10 stages still to come.
Rokas Baciuska and co-driver Oriol Vidal lifted themselves onto the overall T4 class podium. Baciuška is now third with 10 stages left to chase down the category leader.
“Every day at this rally is getting more and more difficult. Today the dunes were really tough to cross.” said Baciuska.
There’s plenty more sand on the menu for tomorrow’s Stage 5, featuring 374km/233 miles against the clock. Whoever can navigate smooth passage through the dunes will end up being rewarded on the leaderboards when the loop stage returns to the Ha’il bivouac.
Selected Overall Standings after Stage 4
T1 Car Class
1. Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT) TOYOTA 16:34:13
2. Yazeed Al Rajhi (SAU) TOYOTA +18:18
3. Stephane Peterhansel (FRA) AUDI +18:52
4. Carlos Sainz (ESP) AUDI +32:55
6. Lucas Moraes (BRA) TOYOTA +45:27
7. Giniel De Villiers (ZAF) TOYOTA +46:13
8. Mattias Ekstrom (SWE) AUDI +50:00
14. Sebastien Loeb (FRA) BRX +01:33:43
T3 Lightweight Prototype
1. Mitch Guthrie (USA) MCE5 18:59:47
2. Guillaume De Mevius (BEL) OT3 +01:29
3. Austin Jones (USA) CAN-AM +11:31
4. Seth Quintero (USA) CAN-AM +01:21:46
5. Cristina Gutierrez (ESP) CAN-AM +02:29:52
6. Chaleco Lopez (CHL) CAN-AM +02:51:00
11. Ignacio Casale (CHL) YAMAHA +03:29:44
1. Rodrigo Luppi De Oliveira (BRA) CAN-AM 20:05:55
2. Eryk Goczal (POL) CAN-AM +14:04
3. Rokas Baciuska (LTU) CAN-AM +24:57
1. Daniel Sanders (AUS) GASGAS 18:40:03
2. Skyler Howes (USA) HUSQVARNA +03:33
3. Kevin Benavides (ARG) KTM +04:05
5. Toby Price (AUS) KTM +07:17
10. Matthias Walkner (AUT) KTM +28:25