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·       Toyotas hold first, second, fourth and fifth after week one of Dakar

·       Gutierrez claims third in FIA T3 category; six T3 stage wins for Quintero 

RIYADH (SAUDI ARABIA) – Saturday, January 8: Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah dominated the first week of the 44th Dakar Rally and had deservedly built up a lead of 48min 54sec at the event’s traditional rest day in Riyadh on Saturday. 

Partnered by French co-driver Mathieu Baumel, who made several critical navigational decisions during a tricky week and six stages through the demanding deserts of Saudi Arabia, Al-Attiyah was able to win both parts of the opening stage and a further special on his way to a comfortable cushion over Overdrive Racing team-mate Yazeed Al-Rajhi and his co-driver Michael Orr. 

Al-Attiyah said: “Absolutely, we are quite happy. We tried to push from the beginning but some drivers made some mistakes. Mathieu navigated well. We are quite happy to have finished the first week of the Dakar with a good lead. Mathieu did a good job. He was very careful to avoid making mistakes. I think we are in a good way. We’ve worked a lot this week without any risks. This is the Dakar and we will try  to manage next week without any risks. We need to be strong all the way. We need to have a good pace without any relaxing because, when you relax, you make a mistake. We also need to navigate well.”


Al-Rajhi was deprived of one near certain stage win by a minor speeding penalty, but the Saudi was able to steer his Toyota Hilux into second at the expense of nine-time WRC champion Sébastien Loeb on the stage before the rest day.


Al-Attiyah’s Toyota Gazoo Racing team-mate Giniel de Villiers endured fraught preparations to his Dakar challenge and only arrived in the Kingdom at the 11th hour. When a five-hour time penalty was rescinded by the event stewards on Friday afternoon, the South African regained his place inside the top five and held fourth place in Riyadh, a mere 1min 31sec behind Loeb.

Argentina’s Lucio Alvarez and his Spanish navigator Armand Monleón had been running as high as third overall during the opening week in their Overdrive Racing Toyota Hilux but lost 20 minutes to their rivals on the sixth stage and slipped down to fifth place. 

Juan Cruz Yacopini and Alejandro Yacopini drove a third Overdrive Racing Hilux and were classified in 23rd overall at the rest day.

Dutchman Bernhard Ten Brinke took Erik van Loon’s place in the team at the 11th hour, when his fellow countryman tested positive for Covid-19. Ten Brinke teamed up with French co-driver Sebastien Delaunay and belied his lack of recent racing experience to overcome several delays en route to 29th overall. 

The French duo of Ronan Chabot and Gilles Pillot had their own fair share of delays and reached Riyadh in 30th, while Portugal’s Miguel Barbosa and Pedro Velosa rounded off Overdrive Racing’s T1 challenge in 37th

The team also built four OT3s for the Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team and they were entered in the FIA T3 category for lightweight prototype vehicles. The team enjoyed a first week of mixed emotions, the highlight being victories on every stage of the Dakar so far.

Young American racer Seth Quintero teamed up with Germany’s Dennis Zenz and won six specials during a remarkable week, where the one blot on his copybook was front differential issues and a sizeable time delay that saw him down in 31st overall at the rest day.

“That’s six stage wins and we are going to keep ticking them off,” said Quintero. “Nine is the record, so we are going to see if we can break it!”


Spanish female racer Cristina Gutierrez was the highest-placed of the OT3 drivers in third at the rest day alongside French co-driver François Cazalet.


Pre-rally Covid testing forced the team to make a late driver and co-driver change. Belgium’s Guillaume de Mevius teamed up with America’s Kellon Walch, when his usual co-driver Tom Colsoul was not able to attend and Walch’s usual driver Mitch Guthrie was also sidelined. 


De Mevius won one stage during the first week, but broken transmission, a differential case breakage and sizeable delays waiting for assistance cost the Belgian heaps of time and he reached Riyadh in 38th.


WRC star Andreas Mikkelsen was a late stand-in for Guthrie, despite never taking part in a desert race like the Dakar before. He teamed up with fellow Norwegian Ola Floene and was second quickest on the Qualifying Stage and seventh on the first desert special before retiring his OT3 after the subsequent test with roll cage damage. 


As it happened 


Action got underway on New Year’s Day with a 19.51km Qualifying Stage held over challenging desert terrain between the official start in Jeddah and Hail. Al-Attiyah claimed the stage win from Sainz by 12 seconds. Overdrive’s Al-Rajhi, Ten Brinke, Alvarez, Chabot  and Yacopini were classified in sixth, 12th, 13th, 20th and 25th


Navigational woes blighted several leading teams on the first of the specials through the An Nafud desert, near Hail, and Baumel’s road book prowess enabled Al-Attiyah to extend his lead over Loeb to 12min 44sec. Alvarez held fourth and Al-Rajhi slipped to ninth, as Ten Brinke lost two hours and plummeted to 46th and Barbosa slipped to 48th


Flooding and heavy rain forced rally officials to move the location of the bivouac for the next stage and abandon plans to run a Marathon special. 


Al-Attiyah ceded the stage win to Loeb but maintained a lead of 9min 16sec with Alvarez moving up to third place and Al-Rajhi setting the sixth quickest time to hold eighth. Yacopini was 24th and Ten Brinke held 30th


Al-Attiyah dropped 5min 10sec to Carlos Sainz through the third stage but was able to increase his overall lead to 37min 40sec after Loeb suffered mechanical issues. Al-Rajhi and Alvarez were sixth and ninth on the stage and a strong third and fifth overall. 


Stage four was the longest of the entire rally at 464.76km and ran between Al-Qaisumah and Riyadh. Al-Attiyah was fastest for the third time, the Qatari beating Loeb by 25 seconds, to extend his advantage to 38min 05sec. Al-Rajhi, De Villiers and Ten Brinke finished fifth, sixth and seventh and Al-Rajhi climbed to third overall with Alvarez slipping behind De Villiers into fifth. A speeding penalty deprived Al-Rajhi of a potential stage win. 


Stage five was a loop through the deserts around Riyadh that had been affected by recent heavy rain. Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Henk Lategan won the stage, as Al-Attiyah erred on the side of caution, came home in eighth place and saw his lead trimmed to 35min 10sec. Alvarez fought his way back into third with Al-Rajhi in fourth overall.


Rally officials arranged a second Riyadh loop stage before the rest day and a cautious Al-Attiyah cruised to the finish with the 10th quickest time to take a lead of 48min 54sec into the second week. 


Al-Rajhi took full advantage of time delays for Loeb to snatch second overall and De Villiers was reinstated in fourth after a time penalty was dropped. Alvarez held fifth overall to give Toyota four cars in the top five after a successful opening week of the 44th Dakar. 

The second half will feature six further desert special stages through the south and western regions of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, featuring bivouacs in Wadi Ad Dawasir and Bisha, before the route heads west for the final stage and ceremonial finish in the Red Sea city of Jeddah on January 14th.