Al-Attiyah wins 3rd Dakar Rally cars title
Qatar’s Nasser al-Attiyah (Toyota) on Thursday cruised to his third title in the Dakar Rally’s cars class, while Spain’s Joan “Nani” Roma (Mini) finished a distant second and Frenchman Sebastian Loeb took third place.
This latest win for al-Attiyah was the first for the Japanese automaker, which has been competing in Dakar for eight years.
The 48-year-old Qatari star and his French co-driver, Matthieu Baumel, had put in a nearly flawless performance over the first nine stages and did not need to take any risks in Thursday’s short 10th and final stage from Pisco to Lima, which Spanish 2018 champion Carlos Sainz (Mini) won with a time of one hour, 20 minutes and one second, 42 seconds ahead of Loeb.
“It’s fantastic. No mistakes during the entire rally. It was a very, very difficult rally for everybody. The good thing was that from day three we were leading and we built on our time everyday until we came to the last day with a big, big lead (of more than 51 minutes),” al-Attiyah said afterward.
The Qatari led after every stage except the second, while his main rivals suffered mishaps and fell by the wayside.
The 56-year-old Sainz’s hopes of a repeat victory were effectively dashed in the third stage when his car’s suspension broke.
Another Mini driver, 13-time Dakar Rally champion (in bikes and cars) Stephane Peterhansel, was already far behind al-Attiyah when he was forced to pull out of the event on Wednesday due to a crash that forced his co-driver to be transported to a hospital with a back injury.
France’s Cyril Despres, a five-time bikes winner who also competes for Mini, saw his slim hopes completely vanish when he lost 40 minutes to al-Attiyah in Wednesday’s ninth stage around Pisco.
The second-placed Roma finished 46:42 behind the Qatari driver; Loeb, who raced in a Red Bull-backed private Peugeot, completed the race trailing the winner by 54:18.
Al-Attiyah, whose previous two titles came in 2011 and 2015 when driving for Volkswagen and Mini, respectively, now is tied with Frenchmen Rene Metge and Pierre Lartigue for third-most Dakar Rally cars titles.
Peterhansel holds the record with seven, while Finland’s Ari Vatanen won four.
This year’s rally in Peru, which began on Jan. 6 in Lima and covered a distance of around 5,000 kilometers (more than 3,000 miles), was the 11th edition in South America and the first ever to be staged exclusively in one country.