Flat out. That was the order of the day for Dakar Rally’s 2020 competitors over a rocky, sandy stage. Competitors raced from Neom to Al-‘Ula over a route of 672km with 453 of those special stage kilometers. The leader board was set for another shake-up with a number of attacks predicted. And, attack the racers did.
The Spaniard Carlos Sainz (Bahrain JCW X-Raid Team) pushed from the get-go this morning with team-mate Stephane Peterhansel, Orlando Terranova (X-Raid MINI JCW Team) and Yazeed Al Rajhi (Overdrive Toyota) chasing for El Matador’s overall position. Al Attiyah was handed a three-minute time penalty late last night after Day Three’s racing for not allowing a competitor behind to overtake him despite the alerts from his Toyota Gazoo Racing Hilux’s Sentinel device. This penalty didn’t demote the Emirati on the overall leader board, but it most certainly motivated him to even more to reel in the lost minutes to Sainz on the time sheets.
Local Saudi hero Al Rajhi set to closing the time gap to Sainz with a storming drive in the opening sections of the stage. Only Peterhansel and Terranova could keep apace, but the two MINI drivers found extra speed over their Hilux rival to soon take charge of the stage’s timing screens with their superieor speed. Peterhansel and his MINI Buggy, now sniffing their first stage victory of the 2020 Dakar Rally, found a rhythm that no other crew could match, to open an almost two-minute lead over Terranova, Al Rajhi, Sainz and Al Attiyah by the stage’s midway. Just 50km later, Peterhansel’s lead grew to more than three minutes over Terranova, while Al Attiyah was left four minutes adrift and Sainz hemorrhaging five-and-a-half minutes of his overnight lead to Peterhansel.
Further down the rankings, Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Fernando Alonso showed none of the speed and bravery of the previous stage, with his pace fizzling out midway through this stage. He was to later finish Day Four some 26 minutes adrift of the stage winner, and thus dropping him to 20th overal on the general classification.
Winning the Dakar Rally 13-times previously, Peterhansel slowed his charge in the final kilometres to conserve his car, while Al Attiyah and Sainz threw caution to the wind in a bid to catch the Frenchman. However, it was too little too late: Peterhansel claimed his first stage victory in 2020 by nearly two-and-a-half minutes from Al Attiyah and with Sainz some five minutes further back. This means Sainz still holds the overall lead of the Cars category, but that lead’s been squashed to only 03min 03sec – and, tantalisingly, had Al Attiyah not incurred that three-minute time penalty on Day Three, he would be only three seconds behind the Dakar Rally’s leader… Peterhansel retains third place overall with Al Rajhi fourth and Terranova now fifth overall. Sainz, Al Attiyah and Peterhansel are now separated by twelve minutes: that is but a puncture between the three of them for a new rally leader on Day Five. This rally’s hotted up!
The Bikes had a far trickier time of the Day Four thanks to the route’s slippery rocks. American ace Ricky Brabec (Monster Energy Honda Team 2020) started out first and set the early pace with team-mate Kevin Benavides and Toby Price (Red Bull KTM Factory Team) in close pursuit to the first Check Point. The Honda team-mates Brabec and Benavides raced to the second Check Point separated by just four seconds on the timing screens, while Price and Jose Cornejo (Monster Energy Honda Team 2020) fought for third place only 30 seconds behind. It was at the halfway mark that Price found his rhythm to take to the front of the field, while Brabec stumbled through the slippery rocks to lose valuable time. Price eked a nearly two-minute lead over Cornejo, while Brabec struggled a further two minutes back.
Benvaides, Cornejo and Price played a high speed game of cat and mouse in the closing sections of the stage: Cornejo snatched the lead from Benavides, Price leapfrogging both, and then Cornejo pipping them both in the closing kilometres of the stage. the Chilean celebrated his maiden Dakar Rally stage victory until Brit Sam Sunderland (Red Bull KTM Factory Team) crossed the finish line. With the fastest stage time, the victory was handed to a deserving Sunderland who had ridden the entire stage at full gas, needling his way through the field and up the leader board. However, Sunderland’s resurgence was shortlived: officials handed him a five-minute penalty for exceeding the speed limit in a neutral zone. This dropped the Brit from first to eighth on the stage, and yet further down the general classifications.
Cornejo was awarded the stage win after all, with Kevin Benavides just 35 seconds behind and Botswana rider and Day Two stage winner Ross Branch in third place only 55 seconds slower than Cornejo after a heroic ride with a separated shoulder, severed fingertip, and damaged KTM. The overnight general classification sees Brabec narrowly holding onto his lead by two-and-a-half minutes over Kevin Benavides and a fast-charging Cornejo eight-and-a-half minutes behind.
The giants of the desert also put on a daring display of speed over the sandy and rocky stage, with a three-way race for the stage honours today. Overnight leader Siarhei Viazovich (MAZ-SportAuto) and the two Kamaz-Master trucks of Andrey Karginov and Anton Shibalov have most certainly stamped their authority on the Trucks category, but today it was the turn of Shibalov to shine for the second time in 2020’s race. The Russian, running behind his team-mate Karginov for much of the stage, pulled out all the stops in in the final two sections to claim victory. Karginov took second place and the overall lead, as Viazovich dropped to sixth position after losing 15 minutes in today’s stage.
Overall, Karginov now leads Viazovich by more than ten minutes and Shibalov by 15min 02sec. These three are now more than 45 minutes ahead of their nearest rivals, such is their astonishing pace.
Tomorrow’s Stage Five sees competitors race between Al-`Ula and Ha’il covering a total distance of 563km. 353km of that is special, giving racers a slightly easier – or at least shorter – day when it comes to overall timings.