Dakar 2022 | Stage 4 | Al Qaisumah > Riyadh
January 5th 2022
The first third of the race came to an end with stage 4, a formidable challenge and, at 465 km, the longest special of the 44th Dakar. As David Castera put it in the briefing yesterday evening, it was a play in three acts. The first section, 40 km long, was packed with enough forks in the road to give competitors a headache. Then came today’s dune area and, to cap it all, a “more technical” finale. Made up of 80% dirt, sometimes drenched in water, such as the wadi near the end of the special, the course from Al Qaisumah to Riyadh featured more threats than opportunities. Peterhansel, Roma, Chicherit and Dom?a?a, to name just a few well-known entrants, were tried and found wanting. However, one racer’s pain is another one’s gain, and competitors such as Al-Attiyah and Barreda seized the opportunity to expand their stage win trophies.
Classic Barreda. Starting in 24th place, he made the most of the longest special of the rally to set out on a spectacular ride, picking up his teammate Pablo Quintanilla along the way as a trusted companion for navigation and going flat out right up to the finish line to take the spoils for the day. And it was only his 29th Dakar victory! The biker from Valencia also soared to seventh place overall, within striking distance of the top 5, still led by Sam Sunderland with Austrian Mathias Walkner now in second place. Lorenzo Santolino earned a place among the elite with the fourth fastest time, while his Sherco teammate Rui Gonçalves claimed his first stage podium (see Performance of the day).
Nasser Al-Attiyah has not known what it feels like to go home empty-handed from the Dakar since 2007, but he could have done without his 44th, awarded to him in the stage to Riyadh after Yazeed Al-Rajhi, originally credited with the best time, was handed down a penalty. Why? Because in tomorrow’s loop stage he will soon see his closest rival, Sébastien Loeb, in his rear-view mirror (albeit with a 38-minute margin). The Frenchman made the wise choice to finish second in the special after operating his BRX Hunter at maximum efficiency throughout the special.
On a completely different note, South African Henk Lategan showed that he has the pace to shoot for the stars with a string of blistering times at the intermediate time checks, but his hopes of a high overall finish were dashed when he smashed up his rear right wheel 310 km into the stage… Game over.
BRX also had its fair share of bad luck. “Nani” Roma had to throw in the towel after being unable to recover from a barrel roll, spelling the end of the 2014 champion’s podium challenge. In the quad race, the Argentinian title holder, Manuel Andújar, is still playing catch-up with leader Pablo Copetti. The T3 category witnessed a new episode of the Seth Quintero Show as the American racked up his fourth triumph, while “Chaleco” López managed his 20-minute lead over his South Racing teammate Sebastian Eriksson. The outfit is similarly dominating the T4 race with Austin Jones, unfazed by the Polish clan’s clean sweep of stage wins. Today was Micha? Gocza?’s turn to claim victory, his second this year, just like his brother Marek! The truck category is also a family affair of sorts, as Eduard Nikolaev signed the 170th stage win by Kamaz, which also leads the rally with Dmitry Sotnikov.
Performance of the day
Since its creation by Marc Teissier in 1988, the French maker Sherco has carved itself out a niche among the constructors that matter in trial and enduro. This meteoric rise no doubt was an inspiration to two of its three factory riders today, this time in a rally raid. Rui Gonçalves and Lorenzo Santolino finished together in third and fourth place, respectively, behind Barreda and Quintanilla’s two factory Hondas, in the longest special of this edition. Yesterday, Rui posted the breakthrough performance of the first part of the race. Today, he pulled off a podium finish, his first ever in the Dakar, in only his second participation. The ever-consistent Santo has finished sixth, fifteenth and fourth since the start in Jeddah and is sitting in fifth place overall, 10?28? behind the leader, one third through the rally. Sherco’s success comes months after the race service at its factory in Nîmes went up in smoke in an accidental fire last September. The mechanics only managed to save the race motorbikes. This setback made preparations for the Dakar even more difficult, but it failed to dampen the motivation of the French technical staff, which got its first reward for the efforts made to bring the three overhauled 450 SEF Rally motorbikes to the start line. “Impossible is not French”, or so the old saying goes, and Sherco has proved it by winning the trial and enduro world championships. This year, it has stepped up to the Dakar challenge again and thrown its hat into the ring for the World Rally-Raid Championship in single-minded pursuit of one goal: to make these words a reality.
A crushing blow
No-one had managed to loosen the Polish armada’s iron grip on the SSV race until Rodrigo Luppi de Oliveira did so today. One of the Poles, Aron Dom?a?a, has won a stage in each of the two previous editions of the Dakar and shone on numerous occasions, but his lack of consistency sabotages all his good work. In the unforgiving world of rally raids, fortune is always a factor, and Dom?a?a could clearly have done with some good luck today. The Can-Am crew must have broken a few mirrors on their way to km 300 of today’s stage. Dom?a?a was vying for victory with his South Racing teammates, Austin Jones and Rodrigo Luppi de Oliveira, as well as his countryman Marek Gocza?, when disaster struck in the form of a mechanical. The Pole, who had started the fourth stage in sixth place overall, 39 minutes behind Jones, was hoping to at least match his third-place finish from last year, but his dreams of standing on the podium in Jeddah have been dashed for good.
Stat of the day : 4
Yazeed Al-Rajhi (Toyota) seemed destined for victory today, but the Saudi driver went a teeny-weeny bit too fast and got caught speeding, resulting in a two-minute penalty that bumped him off the podium and promoted Nasser Al-Attiyah to the top spot in stage 4 of the 44th Dakar. Bringing his career tally to 44 triumphs, the Qatari is just 4 victories shy of pulling level with his arch-rival, Stéphane Peterhansel, as the joint-second most prolific Dakar stage winner, behind the legendary Ari Vatanen (50). The man at the wheel of the Toyota Hilux GR DKR T1+ beat Sébastien Loeb’s Prodrive, Carlos Sainz’s Audi and Yasir Seaidan’s Mini, for 4 constructors in the top 4. One thing is for sure: with three successes under his belt, Al-Attiyah is firing on all 4 cylinders to reach Jeddah as quickly as possible.