Al Qaysumah, January 4, 2022

Today, on the third day of the race, the competitors had to tackle a special that was shortened due to the heavy rain that soaked a part of the region of Al Artawiyah. The stage began at the point which should originally have hosted CP1, reducing the timed section by approximately one hundred kilometres.

On a loop around Al Qaysumah, the riders and drivers started with a 214-km link section, before 255 km of special, followed by a 166-km return route to the starting bivouac for the second looped stage on the rally.

On the menu, there was sand which, thanks to the rain, was heavier and provided better carry. However, there were also chains of dunes through which the competitors had to wind as well as climb, over a distance of 30 km, classed as level 2 difficulty. From the top of these first large dunes, the elite competitors could already start to scrutinize the route of the long stage in store for tomorrow: Nasser Al-Attiyah and Daniel Sanders, through managing their race on the day’s special, look well prepared to affront it.

The story of David against Goliath is mythical and can sometimes bet repeated on the Dakar. Such thumbing of the nose was carried out today in the bike category by Portugal’s Joaquim Rodrigues, who achieved a certain form of consecration by winning a special on his 6th Dakar (see “Performance of the day”). His feat did not perturb the leaders of the overall classification, though the gaps between them narrowed before the major battle expected tomorrow on the way to Riyadh.

For his 31st birthday, Adrien Van Beveren was within 4 seconds of deposing his rival Sam Sunderland from the top of the race hierarchy, on which Matthias Walkner (3rd) and Skyler Howes (4th) also closed in. In total, five brands were represented in the top 6, with the Sherco ridden by Lorenzo Santolino in 6th place. A first victory was also not very far off for Henk Lategan, who was the fastest driver at the intermediate check points. However, he came up against a very imposing stage win collector at the end of the special in the form of Carlos Sainz, who crossed the finishing line with the best time for the 40th occasion in his career on the Dakar (see “Stat of the day”).

Nonetheless, the Spaniard denied himself the pleasure of celebrating, such was his frustration at falling out of the reckoning two days ago in the fight for the title, which chiefly concerns Nasser Al-Attiyah… and increasingly less Sebastien Loeb. The Frenchman and his BRX Hunter remain in 2nd position, but the breakage of his prop shaft after 10 km of racing forced him to drive conservatively (well, as much as that is possible for a driver like Loeb!) and he finished the day more than 37 minutes behind the Qatari race leader.

In the T3 class, Seth Quintero tried to drown his disappointment at yesterday’s display (when he lost several hours due to a mechanical problem) by grabbing his third special after a short night’s sleep, though “Chaleco” López now leads the overall classification, with Sebastian Eriksson 9 minutes behind in his rear-view mirror. The Poles continued their stage win domination in the SSV category, with another special success picked up by Marek Gocza?, but American Austin Jones is still in command in the overall classification. In the truck race, in his Kamaz number 500, Dmitry Sotnikov consolidated his position as leader by obtaining his 2nd stage win of the year, climbing onto the top step of the day’s podium onto which also clambered Janus Van Kasteren from Team De Rooy behind the wheel of his Iveco.

Performance of the day

Joaquim Rodrigues was not aware of the fact this morning at the start, but he set off with the costume of a superhero! Featuring on the virtual podium at each check point, he won the special to obtain his first victory on the Dakar. He also offered the same distinction to Hero Motorsport, the Indian brand for whom he made his debut in 2017. “J-Rod” has endured the worst of experiences, with the death of his team-mate Paulo Gonçalves on 12th January 2020, but today enjoyed one of the best, thanks in part to his former countryman and team-mate: “It’s my first stage victory on the Dakar and its historical for the team, I’m really, really happy. I was riding well and so fast that I even said to myself, ‘Paulo is riding with me here’. I think he and I won here today”. The Portuguese rider’s performance is a reward for the unrelenting work of Wolfgang Fischer’s team, which has cast off the curse that seems to have affected the red and whites: “J-Rod was there with Santosh when we began the project, which has obviously experienced highs and lows. Returning last year with the construction of a new bike following Paulo’s death was not easy. We took part in as many races as possible and organised as much testing and training as we could in order to be ready for the Dakar, but we ran into bad luck in the weeks leading up to the race with injuries to Sebastian Buhler and Franco Caimí. In the end, we are here with Aaron Mare and only have two riders, but Joaquim has won for him and for Hero. It is a very emotional moment for us”.

Crushing blow

Last year, for his first participation on the Dakar, Laisvydas Kancius finished in seventh place, which is a perfectly respectable performance for a rookie. For this 44th edition of the Dakar, the Lithuanian was simply hoping to go one place better in the overall classification. “Finishing sixth would be good, but of course everybody dreams of a podium finish,” he admitted. He looked to have the capabilities of achieving this goal with ninth place on the opening special. The following day witnessed consecration with no less than victory on stage 1B, more than ten minutes ahead of Pablo Copetti and Giovanni Enrico, who were on the Dakar 2021 podium behind Manuel Andújar.

This display enabled him to tackle Monday’s special with the status of category leader. Although he had lost a few minutes by the time he reached the finishing line, he completed the third stage still on top of the overall classification. “Easy does it, we’re sticking to the plan,” he cheerfully commented yesterday evening on Facebook. But, as a famous poet once said, the best laid plans of mice and men go oft awry: his adventure unfortunately ground to a standstill after the first check point due to a mechanical problem. As if that was not enough, his quad also got stuck in the sand, leaving him to admit that even if he managed to dig it out, he would not be able to resume racing. This forced withdrawal is a major blow for the Lithuanian. Nevertheless, he can play his trump card and return to action tomorrow. With 14 quads at the start this morning, Kancius, even with the significant penalty he will receive, could still be in with a shout of making an impact on certain stages.

Stat of the day: 1985

Back to the future! Today, Carlos Sainz took us on a journey back in time through the history of the Dakar… In fact, you need to go back to 1985 to find the most recent victory by an Audi on the Dakar. At the time, it was a Quattro belonging to the French privateer team Malardeau, driven by Bernard Darniche. In obtaining the 40th success of his career on the Dakar, “El Matador” put the Audi RS Q e-tron on the highest step of the podium for the very first time on the world’s most prestigious rally-raid. The icing on the cake was that it was also the first victory achieved by a car enrolled in the T1-Ulimate class, a brand-new category introduced this year, reserved for alternatively powered vehicles. The introduction of this class is part of the first act in the #DakarFuture plan and it is a safe bet that this first triumph by a hybrid vehicle will lead to many more. In any event, all the signals are on green…

World Rally-Raid Championship
Nasser Al-Attiyah and Sébastien Loeb were neck-and-neck yesterday, but today that is no longer the case. The Frenchman who broke his transmission, drew a blank on completion of stage 3 and stays on a total of nine points. However, by finishing eighth on the stage but third amongst the world championship protagonists, his Qatari rival has added three points to his total and is the same number of units ahead of Loeb. “Nani” Roma enjoyed a profitable day in W2RC terms because he is now only one point behind his BRX clan team-mate. In the T3 class, Seth Quintero, who was unlucky on Monday, came up trumps today and climbs to within two points of “Chaleco” López. As regards their T4 class colleagues, Micha? Gocza? got the upper hand over Austin Jones and the two Can-Am drivers are respectively on 11 and 10 points before the fourth special. In the truck race, Martin Macík opened up the gap a little further, with 15 points as opposed to the 12 possessed by his team-mate Martin Šoltys.