Heavy rains saw the final stage of the 2015 Dakar Rally shortened to 35 kilometers, meaning that all drivers retained their overall positions on the last day of the rally. In a fitting end to his race, Robby Gordon and navigator Johnny Campbell won the final stage, one that was not only the shortest but had no bearing on the race as a whole. Competing in his tenth Dakar Rally, hopes were high for Gordon in America coming into the rally, as they are every year. He posted a second place finish on the first stage, but after losing over four hours to the leader on Stage 2, his hopes of an overall victory in 2015 were dashed early on. Gordon persevered, finishing the Dakar Rally in 18th place overall and leaving his fans with as many questions as they had when he arrived. Is the car fast enough? Will there be a second Gordini next year? What will it take for Robby Gordon to win? Win, lose, or draw, Gordon continues to be a fan favorite with his David versus Goliath style, loud V8 engine, and love of jumping podiums and doing donuts in roundabouts.
Photo : Red Bull Content Pool
Unfortunately Goliath won this Dakar Rally, with Nasser Al Attiyah winning his second rally and providing X-Raid with their fourth victory in a row. Save for a two minute penalty in the first stage of the rally, Nasser Al Attiyah led the entire 2015 Dakar Rally, often by a comfortable margin. With Gordon, Nani Roma, Orlando Terranova, Carlos Sainz, and Stephane Peterhansel all experiencing trouble early in the race, there was never heavy pressure on Al Attiyah that would have forced him to make an error. Perhaps the most interesting aspect in an otherwise dull victory, was the fact that Al Attiyah rented his Mini from X-Raid, the first time a non-paid driver has won the rally since it was relocated in South America. Running livery from Red Bull and Qatar, one is left to speculate on what role this will play in X-Raid’s relationship with title sponsor Monster Energy in the future.
Finishing second behind Al Attiyah was former VW teammate Giniel DeVilliers. Despite never winning a stage, DeVilliers was a model of consistency throughout the rally and kept within striking distance of Al Attiyah until Stage 9, when a navigational error cost the Imperial Toyota driver 20 minutes and ended his chances of reeling in Al Attiyah. The Toyotas were the only vehicles that displayed the potential to match the speed of the X-Raid Minis, and as a result we would expect the ASO to make few changes to the vehicle specifications regarding 2WD and 4WD allowances or restrictor sizes for gasoline and diesel engines ahead of the 2016 Dakar Rally. Prior to Gordon’s win of Stage 13, Yazeed Al Rahji was the only driver to break up the X-Raid dominance of stage wins. In his first Dakar Rally, the Saudi showed exceptional talent and was in third place overall before engine failure ended his rally in Stage 11. Keep an eye on Al Rahji in 2016.
Photo: Red Bull Content Pool
Just like at the Baja 1000, often the big stories at Dakar are not just who won, but who persevered. Guerlain Chicherit overcame fires, electrical failures, and a host of other issues throughout the Dakar Rally, but he never gave up. Even on the final stage, Chicherit lost his power steering and had to overcome exhaustion and manhandle his buggy to the finish line, where he finished the rally 45th overall.
Finishing 23rd overall was an Overdrive Toyota that started the race in relative obscurity but came to represent all the rally stands for with regards to courage and determination. Lithuanian Benediktas Vanagas has endured his share of hardship in the Dakar Rally, including breaking his wrist on Stage 8 and rolling his truck on Stage 12. Rather than merely limping along to the finish, Vanagas produced a fourth place finish on Stage 11, broken wrist and all!
On the bikes, Joan Barreda Bort won the most stages for the second year in a row, but Spaniard Marc Coma proved victorious once again, winning his second Dakar Rally in a row and fifth of his career. Unlike the cars, the first half of the Dakar Rally saw Coma behind Bort and Paulo Gonçalves. It was not until the marathon stage, where Bort broke his handlebars and then the salt caused his engine to fail in Stage 8, that Coma took the lead and extended KTM’s dominance in Dakar. The podium for 2015 was rounded out by Paulo Gonçalves and Australian Toby Price.
Like the cars, there were riders on bikes who rose to prominence through their strength of character as much as their speed. The brightest example is Honda rider Laia Sainz, who despite recovering from an elbow injury improved on her 16th place finish in 2014 with an 9th place finish in 2015. Sainz was strong and consistent throughout the rally and despite the rugged terrain and long stages, always seemed to have a smile on her face.
As the 2015 Dakar Rally draws to a close, rumors already are circulating regarding next year’s rally. Despite winning nearly all of the special stages, the X-Raid team looks vulnerable with the improvements to the Overdrive Toyotas and the emergence of Al Rahji and the loss of Stephane Peterhansel to the Peugeot team. Peterhansel managed an 11th place finish in a car that clearly needed more development time to be competitive. If Peugeot’s record at Pike’s Peak is an indication, they will return with a superior machine next year. Who will be joining Peterhansel in driving those machines (Sebastian Loeb? Bryce Menzies?) is a question we will have to wait an entire year to answer. The next Dakar Rally cannot come soon enough.