Riyadh, January 7, 2022
For the last day of racing before the rest day, stage 6 gave rise to a game of musical chairs between the FIA and FIM loops from the day before in the region of Riyadh. The cars and bikes started at the same time from 7.45 AM onwards on their respective specials. While the cars found the familiar traces of the two-wheelers on the ground in front of them, the leading bikers, used to tackling tracks that are unsullied or at least merely marked by a few of their colleagues opening the way, it was an unprecedented experience. The majority of the route for the timed section was already marked by the passage of the FIA categories the day before. These traces that were sometimes accentuated by the inclement weather, making the route unpassable on certain portions, forced the race management to stop the bikers and quad riders at the first shared
neutralisation point, after 101 km. In the end, the bikes and quads only gobbled up a quarter of what was on the menu, meaning they enjoyed extra well-deserved rest from the beginning of the afternoon. This was a blessing for certain riders, such as Joan Barreda, who set out patched up after his fall yesterday. In the car category, the 348-km special to the east of the Saudi capital kept its promises and enabled Terranova and Ekström to shine.
On distanced terrains and different models, red overalls and a vehicle of the same colour were victorious on the last special before the rest day, thanks to the bike of Daniel Sanders and the car of Orlando Terranova. The Australian only required one hundred kilometres to grab his third stage win on the Dakar, due to the interruption in hostilities (see Focus), with a time that allowed him to climb onto the provisional podium and leapfrog Adrien Van Beveren in the general standings. Sanders did not, however, trouble Sam Sunderland, his GasGas team-mate also decked out in red, who sits on top of the bike category classification with a lead of 2’39’’ over Matthias Walkner at the rest day. In the quad race, Aleksandr Maksimov won his first special on the Dakar by just 9 seconds, a margin which has not prevented another Alexandre, namely Giroud, from retaining the lead in the general rankings at the midway point. In the car category, Nasser Al-Attiyah did what was strictly necessary (with a 10th placed finish) to complete the first week of the rally with a comfortable lead. A nice surprise for the Qatari was to see Sébastien Loeb drop to 3rd in the race hierarchy after a major navigation error with significant consequences, which also benefitted Yazeed Al Rahji, now Nasser’s closest pursuer, if a fifty-minute gap can be described as close… At the same time, the performance of the day came from Terranova, who, in his resplendently red BRX Hunter, achieved the best time at the finishing line. The Argentinean reacquainted himself with victory, a flavour he had not tasted on the Dakar since 2015 in his native land… which feels like another lifetime! In the lightweight prototype race, his victory was not a surprise, but the manner in which Seth Quintero achieved stage win number six was: without his brakes for half of the special! Nevertheless, the American’s demonstration left “Chaleco” López indifferent: the Chilean will rest up in Riyadh with a lead of more than twenty minutes over his South Racing team-mate Sebastian Eriksson. Brazilian Rodrigo Luppi de Oliveira was not expecting that much from his first participation in the SSV category but will also sleep contentedly with a 6-minute advantage in the general rankings over Austin Jones. The stage win went to Marek Gocza? who grabbed his third success of the week and has the firm intention of further improving his statistics when racing resumes. Lastly, Dmitry Sotnikov should receive hearty congratulations at the halfway point from his boss at Kamaz: he leads an entirely Russian blue podium in the truck race as he prepares to relax in Riyadh.
Performance of the day
With the desire to start a technological revolution on the Dakar, Audi has left itself exposed to thrills and spills in Saudi Arabia. Indeed, the twists and turns encountered by the three RS Q e-tron models enrolled at the start have not failed to send shivers of all kinds down the spine of Sven Quandt, the project’s maestro. With Peterhansel out of the reckoning following a mechanical problem and Sainz no longer in with a shout due to navigational mistakes, hopes of the title have been dashed, but his three virtuosos have endeavoured to also provide him with more positive sensations. Following victory by “El Matador” on stage 3, the first on the Dakar by an alternatively powered vehicle, it is now the turn of Mattias Ekström to shine for the four-ring brand. The many times DTM champion and world rally-cross champion achieved the second-best time on the special in Riyadh, missing out on catching Terranova by just 1’06’’. The German driver, taking part in his second Dakar after an aborted attempt in the T3 class last year (with an early exit on stage 7), gave proof, if need be, that his boss did not simply choose him for the team in order to have a flag-bearer from the brand’s native country.
On the Dakar, everything can change in a few seconds and Manuel Andújar sadly learned this lesson after only 11 km of the sixth special. The title holder drove through a rut left by one of his car or truck race colleagues the day before and fell from his machine. The Argentinean, who occupied third place in the general rankings before tackling this stage, injured his leg and also damaged his quad. Though gritting your teeth and bearing it is a possibility after simply receiving an injury, when your vehicle is damaged and irreparable, even with the greatest of will, there is nothing to be done about it… After three stage victories, Andújar has been forced to pack up and go home. The unforgiving world of rally-raids spares nobody, not even the elite competitors.