With the sight of the much-needed Rest Day in sight two days’ away, the 2020 Dakar Rally’s competitors pulled out all the stops on today’s 353km special stage. Large rocks loomed large like hills with oose sand, tall dunes and desert grass made the going tough for the weary racers, but it was the talented and determined that smiled after today’s testing 564km route from Al-‘Ula to Ha’il.
Local Saudi ace Yazeed Al Rajhi (Overdrive Toyota) set the pace through the first 150km this morning in a bid to reel in lost time over his rivals, but Nasser Al Attiyah (Toyota Gazoo Racing) seized the top spot. With 03min 03sec separating the Emirati from Carlos Sainz (Bahrain JCW X-Raid Team) on the general classification at the start of this stage, Al Attiyah would be the man to watch on this stage. However, the Spaniard was never too far adrift of Al Attiyah’s Hilux to pass him with 100km of the stage remaining. From thereon, Sainz edged his lead ahead of Al Attiyah to the stage finish.
13-times Dakar Rally winner Stephane Peterhansel (Bahrain JCW X-Raid Team) tried hsi utmost in his MINI Buggy to keep apace with Sainz, Al Attiyah and Al Rajhi, but another puncture dropped the Frenchman more than five minutes and sadly demoted him to stage spectator for the finish in Ha’il.
At the end of the gruelling stage, Sainz finished nealry three minutes ahead of Al Attiyah, and more than six minutes over Peterhansel. On the general classifications, Sainz now stretches his lead over Al Attiyah to 05min 59sec and 17min 53sec over Peterhansel. There is a cushion of some 12 minutes to fourth-placed Al Rajhi and 32 minutes to Orlando Terranova (X-Raid MINI JCW Team).
While Spaniards were cheering for Sainz, Fernando Alonso (Toyota Gazoo Racing) finished the stage in seventh position and 12min 33sec adrift of Sainz’s winning time, but most importantly it shows his perseverance. Of course, had punctures not had such a telling effect the overall results might not look this way. But, then, that’s not in the Dakar Rally’s spirit and unpredictable nature….
As with the Cars category, navigation plays a vital role in success in cross-country racing. For the Bike competitors, stage leader Jose Cornejo (Monster Energy Honda Team 2020) can attest to not only the difficulty of navigation on two wheels but also on running through the stage first while trying to find the fastest lines through the treacherous terrain.
Starting further down the running order, Australian Toby Price (Red Bull KTM Factory Team) was intent on making up the lost time from the previous days misfortunes, and set the fastest time to the first Check Point today. Pablo Quintanilla (Rockstar Husqvarna Factory Racing), Ross Branch (BAS Dakar Racign Team), Andrew Short (Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing) and Sam Sunderland (Red Bull KTM Factory Team) weren’t too far off the pace and were close enough to make for an exciting day’s racing. However, only Luciano Benavides (Red Bull KTM Factory Team) and Sunderland were able to stay with Price at the second Check Point, and Price kept his right hand twisted to the full as he surged to the halfway mark. Sunderland, Quintanilla, Luciano Benavides, Short and Matthias Walkner (Red Bull KTM Factory Team) were the only riders within striking range of Price on the remaining sections of the stage. The Bikes’ overall race took a sharp turn just a handful number of kilometers later: Sunderland crashed heavily to exit the 2020 Dakar Rally.
Thereafter, Price swept to stage victory unchallenged by Quintanilla and Short, who claimed second and third places respectively. Unsurprisingly, overall leader Ricky Brabec (Monster Energy Honda Team 2020) pushed his Honda to its stops from the first section today to the finish in a bid to limit his time loss while running at the front to just three minutes roday. The American maintains his overall lead by nine minutes over Price, a further 2 minutes ahead of Kevin Benavides, 16 minutes on Quintanilla and 20 minutes on yesterday’s stage winner Cornejo.
The Trucks once again showed their amazing speed over the dunes, loose sand and rocky tracks, with yesterday’s three-way race between the two Kamaz-Master trucks of Anton Shibalov and Andrey Karginov and the MAZ-SportAuto of Siarhei Viazovich continue on Day Five. While the three were trying to outmanoeuvre the other, Dmitry Sotnikov (Kamaz-Master) wrestled his machine to the finish line a little over three minutes faster than his rivals. Sotnikov’s dismal 2020 Dakar Rally showing saw him take advantage of his starting position to put on a brave display to win the stage. However, the general classification remains largely unchanged with Shibalov still in charge, with Karginov just 14min 53sec adrift and Viazovich 23min 58sec behind.
The race then continues to Riyadh in one of the longest stages of the 2020 Dakar, with over 478km marked as special and a huge 830km travelled in total.