2024 Dakar Rally Part 1 | 4 talking points

08th January 2024
Damien Smith

Carlos Sainz Sr leads the way after the first two stages of the 46th running of the Dakar Rally, as the epic ‘raid’ takes place for a fifth time in the deserts of Saudi Arabia. The 61-year-old, who is chasing a fourth victory on the Dakar, didn’t get off to the best of starts in his Audi RS Q e-tron – but nevertheless did enough to head the Ultimate car class after the opening weekend, before the event heads into the third of its 12 stages on Monday.

Meanwhile, Mr Dakar himself – Stéphane Peterhansel – made a special piece of history with a great stage victory over a charging Sébastien Loeb on Sunday, as the big names inevitably experienced mixed fortunes on the toughest motor sport event of them all.


1. Ekström on top in Prologue

As is traditional, the Dakar Rally kicked off with a relatively short Prologue stage on Friday. DTM and World Rallycross Champion Mattias Ekström got off to a strong start to lead the way for Audi, with a time of 16min 30sec across the 27km stage in the Al’Ula desert.

Ekström finished 23sec up on the Toyota Hilux of Seth Quintero, with a trio of Prodrive Hunters completing the top five. Remarkably, nine-time World Rally Champion Loeb and Marcus Baumgart set identical times to end up third and fourth, with Baumgart’s brother Christian completing the triumvirate in fifth.

Reigning champion Nasser Al-Attiyah began his bid for a sixth Dakar Rally win with a low-key effort in 12th, on his debut in a Prodrive Hunter after his switch from Toyota. He lost more than a minute to Ekström, although that was far better than Sainz. The Spaniard was down in 34th, two minutes down on his Audi team-mate after losing his way on the stage.


Stage 1: Al-Attiyah and Loeb hit trouble

Drama rarely takes long to play out on the Dakar, and so it proved on Saturday as the first proper stage ran over 414km from Al’Ula to Al Henakiyah. Across a sand and dirt terrain, both Al-Attiyah and Loeb found themselves in bother. Meanwhile at the top of the times, a welcome surprise: Guillaume de Mevius, on his first Dakar stage after graduating from the T3 buggy class to the top Ultimate car category, took a fabulous stage win in his Toyota Hilux.

Sainz was on a charge after his Prologue troubles and although he missed out on the stage win and reported multiple punctures, he got the better of Prologue winner and team-mate Ekström (only 10th on this stage) to end up second overall. Giniel de Villiers was third in his Toyota, while two-time Le Mans 24 Hours winner Romain Dumas finished an impressive fifth in his Rebellion-run Hilux.

As for Al-Attiyah, punctures cost him 24 minutes to lie just 22nd, while Loeb had to stop to change a damaged steering arm and also picked up a puncture. The Frenchman lost 22 minutes and also languished on the outer reaches of the top 20.


Stage 2: Peterhansel’s 50th win

The picture changed entirely on Sunday as 14-time Dakar Rally winner Stéphane Peterhansel came to the fore. The Frenchman, 58, had suffered a rash of punctures on Saturday, but put that behind him to score a historic 50th Dakar stage win in cars to move himself level with rally record holder Ari Vatanen. The success was Peterhansel’s first since 2022 and only his second in an Audi. He also has 33 stage wins from his years racing motorcycles on the Dakar, equal to joint record holder Cyril Despres. No wonder Peterhansel is known as ‘Mr Dakar.’

But he had to hold off a strong charge from Loeb, who also put a disappointing start behind him to rise from 19th to second in the overall rankings. Loeb was just 29sec off Peterhansel’s time at the end of the 464km stage that ran from Al Henakiyah to Al Duwadimi. Loeb had led at the first checkpoint before Peterhansel hit the front.

Al-Attiyah was a distant fourth on the stage behind Quintero. Sainz was only eighth – but an underwhelming time from stage one winner de Mevius, only 19th this time, elevated the Spaniard into the overall lead.

That means with 10 stages still to run, Sainz leads Yazeed Al Rajhi (Toyota) by 1min 51sec, with Prodrive’s Loeb now up to third, 4min 17sec down on his fellow WRC legend. Quintero and de Mevius are next, ahead of Ekström, while Al-Attiyah and Peterhansel are seventh and ninth respectively. Al-Attiyah must make up 12 minutes if he is overhaul Sainz – but on this epic adventure that runs until January 19 who knows what might happen next?


Falcón is first major casualty

Spanish motorcyclist Carles Falcón was said to be in a serious but stable condition on Sunday night after crashing on the second stage. Riding a Rally2 KTM for the TwinTrail Racing Team, Falcón fell 448km into Sunday’s 463km test.

He was flown to Al Duwadimi hospital by medical helicopter having been stabilised at the scene of the accident. Team statement below:

Images courtesy of Dakar and TwinTrail racing

  • Dakar 2024

  • Carlos Sainz

  • Sebastien Loeb

  • Stephane Peterhansel

  • Mattias Ekstrom

  • Race

  • Modern

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