JEDDAH: Qatar’s Nasser Al Attiyah won the Dakar Rally for the fourth time in the car category after the gruelling two-week trek through the Saudi Arabian desert came to a climax on Friday while British motorcycle rider Sam Sunderland took his second title.
Toyota factory driver Al Attiyah had led from the Jan 1 start and finished in Jeddah 27 minutes and 46 seconds ahead of France’s nine-time world rally champion Sebastien Loeb. Saudi driver Yazeed Al Rajhi was third with the Overdrive Toyota team, his first podium finish in the event.
Al Attiyah won the Dakar when it was held in South America in 2011, 2015 and 2019 with Volkswagen, Mini and Toyota respectively.
He is now the joint-second most successful car driver in the history of the event, tied with Finland’s four times winner Ari Vatanen and behind France’s eight times winner Stephane Peterhansel who also won six times on a motorcycle.
“We had finished second every time since we came to Saudi Arabia two years ago, now we’re really happy to achieve our goal,” said the Qatari.
“We opened up a gap on the first day and have since managed our lead. We’re really happy, and I reckon we’ll start thinking of the next Dakar in a week or 10 days.”
The final stage of the car race was won by South Africa’s Henk Lategan with the overall Dakar recordholder Stephane Peterhansel second in his electric hybrid Audi.
GasGas rider Sunderland, who took his first title in South America in 2017, finished three minutes and 27 seconds ahead of Chilean rider Pablo Quintanilla on a Honda. Austrian Matthias Walkner was third for KTM.
“I honestly can’t be happier. This last stage was so difficult and so much stress,” said the Dubai-based 32-year-old after the 164km stage from Bisha to the Red Sea Port city of Jeddah.
“A lot of navigation, a lot of tricky notes, a few times a bit confusing and not sure if I was going the right way. Honestly, my head can explode. What a feeling. The last 10 minutes, I was not sure whether I’d won and now they’ve told me and, wow, dream come true.”
The final stage was marred by tragedy as 20-year-old French mechanic Quentin Lavallee was killed in a car accident.
Published in Dawn, January 15th, 2022