Qatari driver Nasser Al-Attiyah won the Dakar Rally for a fourth time after the gruelling two-week trek through the Saudi Arabian desert, and the South African drivers also put in some impressive stages.
JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia – Qatari driver Nasser Al-Attiyah won the Dakar Rally for a fourth time after the gruelling two-week trek through the Saudi Arabian desert came to a climax on Friday. The 51-year-old Toyota Gazoo Racing Hilux driver – who also won in 2011, 2015, 2019 – took the overall honours by almost half an hour from France’s nine-time world rally champion Sebastien Loeb (Prodrive BRX Hunter).
Earlier on Friday British motorbike rider Sam Sunderland had claimed his second Dakar Rally crown.
The final stage was won by South Africa’s Henk Lategan (Toyota Gazoo Racing) with the overall Dakar record holder Stephane Peterhansel second in his electric hybrid Audi. The German carmaker said prior to the race they had no aspirations of winning the overall title in what is its first entry with such a model but they did secure several stage wins.
Al-Attiyah led from start to finish to secure his first win in Saudi Arabia after two runners-up spots.
“It was an incredible Dakar for us,” said the Toyota driver. “We hadn’t won since 2019. There were three solid teams capable of winning.
“Matthieu (Baumel his French co-driver) 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. The whole race went without a hitch.”
Among the South African drivers, Giniel de Villiers finished fifth overall, while his Toyota Gazoo team-mates Shameer Variawa and Henk Lategan came 15th and 31st. Century Racing’s Brian Baragwanath achieved 14th overall, while his team-mate Christiaan Visser managed 29th place.
‘My head can explode’
Sunderland, who in 2017 became the first British champion in either car or bike category, finished 3min 27sec ahead of Chile’s Pablo Quintanilla and Austrian Matthias Walkner to take the chequered flag in Jeddah.
Sunderland, 32, dominated the first week but he duelled for the overall lead over the final days and surrendered it several times before finally coming out on top.
He said it had not been all plain sailing on the final stage which he entered with a healthy lead.
“I honestly can’t be happier,” said Sunderland.
“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. Honestly, my head can explode. The last ten 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.”
For Quintanilla it was handsome reward having left Husqvarna to replace 2021 champion Kevin Benavides at Honda.
The 35-year-old said it had been “the most stressful” Dakar for him yet, though, his spirits had been boosted throughout by his compatriots writing to him.
“I’m over the moon with this result,” he said.
“It was a really, really tough race. I did my best. This is a good result for me as part of a different team.
“We fought hard from day one. It was physically and mentally exhausting. But I’m really pleased with my performance in the race.”
Walkner, who was champion in 2018, was ecstatic with his final placing.
“If you’d said to me before the rally I could finish in the top 3, I would have said, ‘where do I have to sign?’,” said the 35-year-old.
“I’m going to enjoy this podium spot, which almost feels like a victory,” he said.
Among the top South Africans, Aaron Mare (Hero Motorsports Team Rally) came 16th overall, Bradley Cox (BAS World KTM Racing) came home 25th and privateer Charan Moore took 34th spot.
AFP & IOL