Dakar 2023: Al-Attiyah in command as disaster strikes Audi on Stage 6
Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah made a major step towards winning the 2023 Dakar Rally after he took victory on Stage 6 and his Audi rivals Carlos Sainz and Stephane Peterhansel suffered costly crashes.
Sebastien Loeb led another powerful recovery by Bahrain Raid Xtreme in the Dakar Rally Friday, as Al Attiyah gained a huge overall lead when his three closest rivals were removed from contention.
Loeb and Fabian Lurquin in their BRX Prodrive Hunter set the second fastest time on the 358km sixth stage from Hail to Riyadh to collect more valuable points in the World Rally-Raid Championship (W2RC).
Making it a rewarding day all round for the Prodrive Hunters, Guerlain Chicherit and Alex Winocq took fourth place on the day, with Lithuanians Vaidotas Zala and Paulo Fiuza recording the fifth best time.
Toyota’s Al-Attiyah and Peterhansel fought tooth and nail for much of the shortened 358km special between Hail and Riyadh, with Peterhansel reversing Al-Attiyah’s early advantage to grab the lead at the second checkpoint.
Peterhansel had built a buffer of well over a minute after crossing the timing mark at 207km, but disaster struck just minutes later when his Audi RS Q e-tron was involved in a major crash.
Such was the scale of the incident that co-driver Edouard Boulanger suffered back injuries and needed to be airlifted for medical treatment, forcing the crew to abandon the stage.
Audi received a second blow shortly afterwards when Sainz suffered an accident of his own at the same point of the stage, where a steep gradient change caused one of the tires to be ripped off.
Both Sainz and his co-driver Lucas Cruz escaped the incident unscathed but lost a lot of time due to repair work, with the duo yet to reach the updated bivouac location near the Saudi capital at the time of writing.
With Peterhansel and Sainz now effectively out of running, and Overdrive Toyota’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi also yet to make it to the finish with suspected issues, Al-Attiyah has opened up a staggering 1hr06m lead in the overall standings.
His closest competitor is his factory Toyota teammate Henk Lategan, who ended the stage third-quickest with a time that 3m22s down on the Qatari driver’s benchmark.
Overdrive’s Lucas Moraes sits another four minutes adrift in third, while works driver Giniel de Villiers has moved up to fourth to establish an unprecedented Toyota 1-2-3-4 at the head of the queue.
The best of the non-Toyota cars in the field is that of Mattias Ekstrom, the sole surviving Audi driver, who trails Al-Attiyah by 1hr46m in fifth after a run to sixth on Friday’s test.
Next up is Loeb in the Prodrive-built Hunter. However, the Frenchman faces a 1hr57m deficit to the reigning champion in the general classification, meaning his chances of adding a Dakar victory to his nine WRC titles are all but over.
Le Mans 24 Hours winner Romain Dumas (Rebellion), Martin Propok (Benzenia), Brian Baragwanath (Century) and Wei Han (Hanwei) completed the provisional top 10 in the overall standings.
Loeb’s climb into sixth place overall was a tribute to his powers of concentration, and the resilience of the BRX team, following a succession of misfortunes this week.
Three top five finishes on the day was a powerful reminder of the all-round capability of the BRX Prodrive Hunter, which brought back-to-back rally victories for Chicherit in Morocco and Loeb in Andalucia two months ago, to round of the 2022 W2RC.
The nine-time World Rally Champion and Stage 4 winner will now continue his pursuit of W2RC points on tomorrow’s 333km stage from Riyadh to Al Duwadimi, with BRX confident of challenging for more stage victories up to the finish in Dammam on Jan. 15.