Ha’il – Al Qaysumah, January 3, 2022
Genuinely swamped by the rain, the bivouac at Al Artawiyah was deprived of the very special evening of the marathon stage it was originally planned to host. Nevertheless, bowing to nature is in the DNA of the rally-raid discipline: without the bat of an eyelid, the organisers and competitors re-routed to the stage 3 bivouac.
However, the sporting programme for the second stage did not suffer similar upheaval because, on completion of the 338-km special, heading towards the province of Riyadh, a new 270-km link route made it possible to reach Al Qaysumah, where the caravan will stay for two nights.
The competitors in the Dakar Classic category, whose route parallel to the other categories was too heavily impacted by the flooding, travelled directly in convoy to the replacement stage hosting city. 90% of the day’s special was contested on sand, with a third made up of dunes on which the leading lights in the bike category started to close ranks just before the combat between Al-Attiyah and Loeb turned to the advantage of the BRX Hunter.
He has never given up and is still chasing a first title on the Dakar. Joan Barreda, reputed to be one of the fastest riders in the pack, has never enjoyed a better finish than the 5th place in the overall classification that he achieved in 2017. Yesterday, a long session of navigational difficulties compromised his chances. However, as is often the case, his temperament drove him into making a comeback. With an attacking strategy pushed to the extreme, he grabbed his 28th stage victory, while far ahead of him, Sam Sunderland and Adrien Van Beveren respectively seized the first two places in the overall classification, separated by a gap of 2’51’’. Sébastien Loeb is another formidable hunter of stage wins.
What’s more, with his 15th victory on the Dakar (see “Stat of the day”), which he obtained by stalking Nasser Al-Attiyah who was on top form, the Frenchman moved to within 9’16’’ and, behind the wheel of his evidently smoothly running Hunter BRX, he showed himself to be a worthy rival to the Qatari for the title. The duel that is emerging between Al-Attiyah and Loeb is very unlikely to be affected by the Audis, even if both Carlos Sainz and Stéphane Peterhansel are still determined to set tongues wagging with their performances: after their setbacks yesterday, they completed the stage in 3rd and 4th place. Manuel Andújar also suffered yesterday, but the injector problems on his quad have now been solved.
With his stage triumph, he took a leaf out of Barreda’s strategy book, but still trails the leader in the category, Lithuanian Laysvidas Kancius, by half an hour. In the T3 race, Guillaume De Mevius accomplished a veritable exploit (see “Performance of the day”), pipping “Chaleco” López at the post by 4 minutes, though the Chilean can console himself with gaining the leadership in the overall classification, due to Seth Quintero’s differential case breaking 30 km from the finishing line. Poland again featured on the roll of honour for SSV stage wins, thanks to the best time of the day achieved by Michal Gocza?, but it was Austin Jones who took command of the overall classification with a small lead of 1’52’’. A third different Kamaz this year triumphed in the truck race, with Andrei Karginov finishing in front of his team-mates. The situation is similar in the overall classification, with the blue trucks occupying the first four places and Sotnikov in the lead!
Sam Sunderland: “It’s always nice to lead the rally”
2nd on the day’s special, the official GasGas rider continues to boost the reputation of the Catalan constructor o the Dakar following the two stage wins achieved by team-mate Daniel Sanders.
“It’s always nice to lead the rally, but we’ve got a long way to go. It doesn’t mean so much because we know this race. The navigation is so tricky and it looks like every day when the guys are opening they are losing a lot of time. There are so many long difficult days to come, I’m sure, so I’m sure there will be a lot more switching around, but of course it’s still good to lead and it shows that we are on point and on pace. The bike feels really good and physically I feel pretty strong this year. I’m looking forward to some long days to come”.
Performance of the day
The OT3-Red Bull team is continuing to experience ups and downs. While Seth Quintero was left at a standstill by a mechanical problem 30 km from the finishing line, a nice surprise came with the performance of Guillaume de Mevius, a rookie who is getting a real taste of the emotional yo-yo of the Dakar. Following a last-minute change of co-pilot, the Belgian, now accompanied by Kellon Walch, lost seven hours on yesterday’s stage. This problem also meant he had to start the stage extremely late, obliging him to drive in the deep grooves left by the trucks. However, this type of setback did not stop him from driving at pace, nor from accomplishing the best time on completion of the 338 km that made up the day’s special! Not content with that, the stage winner also had the time to display kindness and stop to help his team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen change a wheel. Such a relaxed performance is certainly a vision of the Dakar inherited from his father Grégoire, who won three stages on the rally at the beginning of the 2000s.
Truly, when your luck is out, it really is out… Today, Danilo Petrucci gave the perfect illustration of this adage. It all began on the 6th of December when the native of Terni broke his right ankle and heel. Nonetheless, he still came to Saudi Arabia to see how things would unfold and he soon realised that it was within his possibilities to race, even if it meant soldiering on through gritted teeth. However, a stumbling block was thrown up when he tested positive for Covid-19 two days before the start. After a further test, the former MotoGP winner finally received the green light to make his dream of racing on the Dakar come true. Petrucci is fast, in fact he is very fast, as shown by his second place in the overall classification for the Rally2 category on the evening of stage 1B. Yet, after withstanding the pain of his injuries and the threat of Covid-19, it was in fact a mechanical problem that put paid to the hopes of the Tech3 rider, as his KTM ground to a halt after 115 km of the day’s special. He strove to repair, but in vain and, in the end, was airlifted from the stage. Petrucci has not yet thrown in the towel, because he can play the trump card that allows him to continue the adventure and gain experience in the rally-raid discipline. If he chooses to do so, he will receive a similar penalty to the one handed out to Stéphane Peterhansel in the car category.
Stat of the day: 15
Sébastien Loeb’s patience and selflessness were finally rewarded today between Ha’il and Al Qaysumah. The nine times winner of the WRC was able to maintain Nasser Al-Attiyah within his sights and then eventually taste victory on completion of stage two of the 44th edition of the Dakar. Sébastien Loeb now boasts 15 stage wins on the event and has equalled his countrymen Jean-Louis Schlesser and Bruno Saby in the roll of honour for stage victories in the car category. By climbing onto the top of the day’s podium, Loeb has also provided the Prodrive firm and its BRX team, which have been on the Dakar since last year, with their very first success. Indeed, it is the 27th different constructor to taste triumph on the rally. The icing on the cake was provided by Nani Roma’s fifth place finish, eight minutes behind his team-mate, making it a fine day for the BRX clan.
World Rally-Raid Championship
Another duel is taking place on the tracks of the Dakar with the aim of crowning the world rally-raid champion and it involves the two main players at the beginning of this rally. Each with a stage victory and a second-place finish, Sébastien Loeb and Nasser Al-Attiyah together lead the classification. Today, “Nani” Roma also made his entrance into the rankings and finds himself tied in 3rd position with Lucio Álvarez, both on 3 points. The contest also concerns the T3s, led by South Racing’s Can-Am driven by Francisco “Chaleco” López ahead of Cristina Gutiérrez’s OT3-Red Bull. In the T4 class, Austin Jones is leading the dance, whilst in the truck category, after only two days, Martin Macík is starting to open up a gap, with a total of 10 points.