Stage 11: Bisha – Bisha
A recital by Sunderland and Al-Attiyah
The penultimate special on the Dakar won praise from Carlos Sainz who enjoyed his second stage victory on this edition: “camel grass, dunes, navigation, riverbeds and stones… it was a really complete stage and quite difficult to open on”. The loop out from Bisha and back heading due north to enter the Province of Mecca before turning round and returning to Asir, in the southwest tip of the kingdom. With a total of length of 501 kilometres, 346 km were raced against the clock, with 42% made up of sand and a third by dunes, some of which were very soft, presenting the pretenders to the crown tomorrow with the possibility of making the difference before the final effort. “The toughest stage of the Dakar,” was how it was summed at the finishing line by Pablo Quintanilla, who took advantage of it to climb into second place in the general rankings behind Sam Sunderland.
He had felt the trap closing in on him. Having perfectly analysed the situation in which he found himself yesterday, Adrien Van Beveren was duty bound to perform well to avoid his direct rivals and the rest of the pack swooping down on him. Instead, a handful of minutes spent hesitating in the search for a waypoint, after only 4 kilometres of the special, made the challenge unmanageable. The strategists who took care in calculating where to finish yesterday in order to start in a favourable position this morning were able to go full gas today. The most consistent among them this year, namely Sam Sunderland, reaped the biggest benefits and was able to regain his place at the race’s summit, whilst Pablo Quintanilla, who is also a smart tactician, climbed into second place, 6’52’’ behind the leader who can now home in on victory with a little more serenity. Matthias Walkner also leap-frogged Van Beveren, who will have to grudgingly console himself with a fourth-place finish that awaits him tomorrow because the podium is not a realistic proposition since he trails the Austrian rider by 8’15’’. In the midst of this fight for overall victory, for the record, Kevin Benavides picked up the 6th success of his career on the Dakar, a little like Carlos Sainz who lost his hopes of a podium finish much earlier in the rally. The Spaniard’s victory, his 41st on the Dakar, did not elicit much of a response in the mind of Nasser Al-Attiyah, who boasts 44 of them and is much more preoccupied with the lead he possesses over Sébastien Loeb. After further efforts by the Frenchman to attempt to reduce his time deficit, at the finishing line he had only clawed back five minutes, which were then made obsolete by a penalty for speeding. A golden opportunity now presents itself to Al-Attiyah on the stage to Jeddah, which he will start with a cushion of 33’19’’. Paradoxically, quad rider Alexandre Giroud seems more stressed out than the Qatari in light of the forthcoming 169-km special, for which he has a lead of 2 hours and 41 minutes over Kamil Wiśniewski. In the T3 category, Quintero’s extravaganza continued with an 11th stage win out of 12 specials, whilst “Chaleco” López nonchalantly continues his route towards the title. The road captain of the South Racing team will hit the road tomorrow with a lead of 55 minutes over his team-mate Sebastian Eriksson. Austin Jones will be scared stiff after having lost his place of general standings leader to Gerrard Farrés (see Performance of the day) over whom he will have to gain 1’41’’ in order to triumph. In the truck race, the leader is still the Kamaz team’s Dmitry Sotnikov, with an advantage of 8’18’’ over his team-mate Eduard Nikolaev.
Performance of the day
Discretion sometimes has its virtues, including on a Dakar bivouac where there is a tendency for showing off one’s might. Gerard Farrés is the type of competitor who prefers quiet progress, but progression all the same. Indeed, during his career as a biker, for a long time the Spaniard contented himself with playing second fiddle, as a water carrier for Marc Coma in Africa and then for “Chaleco” in South America. And yet, he craftily climbed onto the final podium on his 10th participation with 3rd place in 2017, pinched for a handful of seconds from Adrien Van Beveren. Since his switch to four wheels two years ago, he has only obtained places of honour in the SSV category and has not really dazzled on the 2022 edition of the rally. However, Farrés’ method is astounding! The Catalan driver has only won one special, on stage 7, leaving the spotlight to the Goczał brothers in particular and waiting in ambush behind Austin Jones, the major favourite in the category. Today, he took advantage of the mishaps encountered by the American, who was delayed by a broken differential, to pounce and take the lead in the general rankings. With a cushion of only 1’41’’ to protect his hopes for the title, nobody knows whether this dramatic change in events will last until the finishing line. Austin Jones is resourceful, but then again, so is Farrés…
There is nothing more frustrating than coming unstuck with the finishing line in sight. This is exactly what happened to Martin Michek today. As if that was not enough, it is the second time he has had to swallow this bitter pill. The Czech participated in his first Dakar just two years ago, but he had to throw in the towel in almost the same manner as today due to a mechanical problem on the penultimate stage. Struck by a rare liver disease that should have required a transplant according to doctors, Michek miraculously recovered and climbed back onto his bike less than two months afterwards, with the goal of returning to the rally last year for his second participation. After a 10th place finish, he continued to improve and went on to win the FIM bajas world cup. As a result, the KTM rider arrived at the rally this year with the firm intention of doing better than the previous attempts. Following three top ten finishes, Michek approached the day’s stage in 18th position in the general rankings, almost 2 hours behind the leader, with the status of fifth best privateer. Even though the mission to improve upon last year’s display seemed compromised, the RallyGP rider had not given up. However, when he broke his front wheel after the second time check point, this threw a huge spanner in the works… He was able to repair his machine and resume the stage, but the outcome was disastrous: he lost more than 4 hours and 30 minutes and slid down to 37th place in the general rankings. It is a crushing blow for the leading light of the new Czech school of riders, but it is odds on that he has not had his last word on the matter. He has not lost sight of his goal of one day becoming a factory team rally rider.
Stat of the day: 32/36
Since the beginning of the 44th edition of the Dakar, blue is incontestably the colour on the podium of the truck category. Out of the 12 specials contested so far (including stage 1A), the Kamaz clan have occupied all three steps eight times. Nevertheless, several competitors have attempted to challenge the Russian team’s domination, behind the wheel of Iveco trucks for the most part, but none of them have done better than third place. Among this list features Janus Van Kasteren, who has spoiled the party on two occasions. There was also Martin Van Den Brink on stage 7 and Martin Macík, the leader of the world rally-raid championship in the same category, on completion of the loop around Wadi Ad Dawasir. Today, the Kamaz again swept the board clean after a 346-km long special. Ignacio Casale, a three-times winner in the quad category who has been participating in the truck race since last year, tried hard with his Tatra to put them off balance. The Chilean even led the dance at the second time check point, but there was nothing to be done! Aleš Loprais, the nephew of truck category legend Karel Loprais, also tried his luck but without the desired result. The Kamaz machines have always fought back to regain their place and continue an almost seamless race: 32 podiums out of 36 is more than impressive; all the more so when they can add to the fact that they have achieved five shutouts of the top four places.
World Rally-Raid Championship
In T1, Loeb and Al-Attiyah’s pursuers treated themselves to the lion’s share. Lucio Álvarez (Toyota Overdrive) and Nani Roma (BRX) dominated the participants in the world rally-raid championship by gobbling up 5 and 4 points respectively. With a total of 17 and 18 points, the Argentinean and Spaniard are now hot on the heels of provisionally third placed Yazeed Al Rajhi and his 19 points. It is almost a case of status quo between the two dominant males in the discipline: 39-27 in favour of Loeb ahead of Al-Attiyah.
In T3, Quintero has left his chasers in his wake by achieving 9 consecutive successes. He now boasts 50 points against 36 for “Chaleco”. Saudi driver Dania Akeel has started to get used to writing her name into the FIA’s points tables! Like yesterday, she pocketed a point today, as did Lionel Costes who now possesses 5 of them ahead of Dania.
In T4, there was a 5th success for Marek Goczał. Rokas Baciuška followed on his heels, gaining the upper hand over Aron Domżała by moving up into 5th position in the category. Austin Jones, with 2 points, has moved level with Michał Goczał and both have 30 points each, joint second behind leader Marek and his 36 points.
In T5, Martin Macík accomplished is 7th consecutive success ahead of Kees Koolen. The heavyweights of the category total 53 points and 42 points respectively.
More information on the W2RC website
On the eve of the finish to the 2nd edition of the Dakar Classic, the dice seem to have been cast on the sand and appear unlikely to roll before the podium ceremony. Mogno, Euvrard and Pliego are again comfortably installed at the top of the general rankings this evening. Well, almost, because the Spanish crew in 3rd position can see the Protruck driven by the Galpins with its 400 horsepower Chevrolet engine drawing in close in their rear-view mirrors! The French couple, occupying fourth in the general rankings and winners of the day’s stage, enjoyed their first success but also the first for a vehicle enrolled in the H3 class on the Dakar Classic. On paper, there is nothing in their favour among the participants in the “high average speed” class. “Seeing as we drive between 30 and 40 km/h quicker than the other categories, we have to take the decisions faster and, if we get delayed, it’s also more difficult to regain the time, because we
have to go even faster! But that’s where it also becomes much more fun for a rally driver,” explains the man behind the wheel. This situation was not unexpected for these regulars on the Nascar and rally circuits, as expanded upon by the co-pilot: “We knew that only H1s or H2s would be able to win. They drive more slowly and can take advantage of our tracks, plus their specifications are simpler”. Her husband adds: “We also thought that driving at 50 km/h would soon become boring for us. We came here to discover the event and to have fun, with the thought that, with a bit of luck, we might be able to achieve a podium finish in H3. During the first week, it all seemed to be going so well. We were behind the Panagiotis, the couple of friends with whom we came to the rally, who are also racing in a Protruck, but then they dropped out on the rest day. From a position of coming along to have fun, we changed to a mission that involved telling them that we would bring the H3 cup back for them.” Occupying 4th place in the general rankings this evening thanks to six consecutive days in the Top 5, their main rival in the H3 class, the Peugeot 205 T16, is in 25th scratch position. Tomorrow, they will open the road again for the Dakar Classic Caravan, looking for the place of honour that their performance will deserve, for themselves and for absent friends.
Quote of the day
Nasser Al-Attiyah’s nearest pursuer was only able to recover 4 minutes on the day’s stage and prefers to look at the positive side of being runner-up.
“We drove a very good stage, with good navigation and a good rhythm. We did what we could. It has been a great stage again. At the moment we are still in second place, it’s not so bad. I think our rhythm is really good. The car is strong and fast. With Fabian, it’s going well. We’ve done good navigation all the time. For sure, we lost a lot of time on one of the first days when we broke the diff but since then we have been really chasing and achieving some good times, so it’s just how it is. Second at the moment isn’t so bad. I don’t know about the W2RC, for the moment I’m not thinking about the rest. The next step for me will be Monte Carlo in one week, so we will see for the future”.