Dakar 2022: Sunderland Stoops to Reconquer as Ekström Puts on a Show

#224 Ekstrom Mattias (swe), Bergvist Emil (swe), Team Audi Sport, Audi RS Q e-tron, Auto FIA T1/T2, action during the Stage 8 of the Dakar Rally 2022 between Al Dawadimi and Wadi Ad Dawasir, on January 10th 2022 in Wadi Ad Dawasir, Saudi Arabia © Florent Gooden / DPPI

The 44th edition of the Dakar has sand as a major theme and the eighth stage was one of its most perfect
examples. The 830 kilometres to be covered during the day led the caravan due south between Al Dawadimi and Wadi Ad Dawasir. It was again in the heart of the kingdom and in the Province of Riyadh that a second consecutive special measuring almost four-hundred kilometres awaited the competitors. The menu consisted of 24% of the route in the dunes, which is the highest proportion since the beginning of the rally. Only the penultimate stage will have as large a percentage in store, which bodes well for those who like the suspense to be kept going until the day before the finish. Firstly, however, the day’s special commenced with the desertic Nafud as Surrah and its copious dunes, which some competitors had to attempt several times before conquering their summits, sometimes at altitudes of more than 1000 metres. This required significant skill for crossing the dunes, in which Audi driver Mattias Ekström remained cautious on his first experience of the Dakar, whilst “Mister Dakar” ripped off his bonnet after smashing down on one of the sandy monsters. This demanding first part against the clock then gave way to a complete change in scenery. Rocks and canyons were the watchwords in a mineral labyrinth liable to throw up traps into which fell the openers, namely Cornejo – by no means a novice in navigation – and Barreda. All the symbolic elements of the Dakar were present: distance, dunes and navigation.

#183 Medeiros Marcelo (bra), Team Marcelo Medeiros, Yamaha YFM700R, Quad, W2RC, action during the Stage 8 of the Dakar Rally 2022 between Al Dawadimi and Wadi Ad Dawasir, on January 10th 2022 in Wadi Ad Dawasir, Saudi Arabia © Frédéric Le Floch / DPPI

The tension is mounting as the closing stages approach, especially in the close fought battle in the bike
category. Tipped off the throne on top of the general rankings by Adrien Van Beveren, Sam Sunderland did not let his brother-in-law enjoy this privilege for more than a day. The winner of the Dakar in 2017 set out to recapture the lead and achieved the day’s best time to regain the summit of the race’s hierarchy, whilst the French Yamaha rider, hindered by a broken automatic scroller on his roadbook, also saw Austrian Matthias Walkner overtake him. In 3rd position, 4’43’’ behind Sunderland, Adrien Van Beveren can still aim high, but must also keep an eye on his rear-view mirrors, in which the Honda riders will look very threatening, particularly Pablo Quintanilla who is only 47’’ behind. There is a clearer horizon in the quad category because Alexandre Giroud has pushed Pablo Copetti back to more than half an hour behind him by winning his second special of the year. Nasser Al-Attiyah’s breathing space is even more comfortable, but he might now be sleeping slightly less easily. Firstly, because his nearest pursuer is called Sébastien Loeb, who is the kind of man who does not give up. Even when driving conservatively after a puncture and then a lost spare wheel (see “Quote of the day”), the Frenchman still managed to regain seven minutes on the leader. Secondly, the Qatari is not safe from a mishap himself, as illustrated today when he received a major fright due to a broken rear transmission forcing him to finish the stage with two-wheel drive. This is a timely warning to the race leader and he will no doubt have in mind that the Audis will make life much more difficult for him next year. The three RS Q e-tron can no longer bother him in the general rankings but were driven into three of the top four places on the day’s stage, led by Mattias Ekström (see “Performance of the day”). Similar worries to Al-Attiyah’s  could trouble “Chaleco” López, who is streets ahead of the rest in the race for victory among the T3s (with a lead of 1 hour and 20 minutes over Sebastian Eriksson) but remains unperturbed by Seth Quintero gobbling up most of the specials on the Dakar 2022: eight out of nine so far, with the record in his sights! There is everything left to play for in the SSV category, where another American is dominating. However, Austin Jones only possesses a lead of 6’38’’ over his South Racing team-mate Gerard Farrés, and barely a quarter of an
hour over the youngest of the Goczał brothers, namely Michał. The eldest brother, Marek, is tasking himself with hoovering up the stage victories and won for the fourth time this year today. In the truck race, the Kamaz team took the top four places. With three stage successes to his name, Dmitry Sotnikov has extended his lead at the top of the general rankings to 11’25’’ ahead of Eduard Nikolaev.

#03 Sunderland Sam (aus), GasGas Factory Racing, KTM 450 Rally Factory Replica, Moto, W2RC, action during the Stage 8 of the Dakar Rally 2022 between Al Dawadimi and Wadi Ad Dawasir, on January 10th 2022 in Wadi Ad Dawasir, Saudi Arabia – © ASO/Horacio Cabilla

Four days after Henk Lategan’s consecration, the Dakar has welcomed another stage winner to its roll of
honour and the 93rd in the race’s history. Before starting the 2022 edition, Mattias Ekström, like his rival at Toyota, had only experienced the Dakar once previously, which he also prematurely exited before the final finishing line. However, the comparison ends there because the Swedish driver first tried his hand at the T3 category, whilst the South African was already driving a Toyota Hilux. What’s more, in Wadi Ad Dawasir, Ekström’s success is the symbol of a technological revolution. The RS Q e-tron designed by Audi had already displayed its performance capabilities when driven to triumph by stage success collector Carlos Sainz on special number 3. Today, the former rally-cross world champion (in 2016) triumphed with the honour of leading a high-level collective performance as the Dakar came very close to celebrating a 100% Audi podium, with Peterhansel finishing 2nd and Sébastien Loeb depriving Sainz of 3rd place by just three seconds. Beyond the anecdotal, team boss Sven Quandt may instruct Mattias Ekström to dial back the desire to hunt success on the specials, bearing in mind that the Swede is the best placed representative of the four-ringed brand. Currently 11th in the general rankings, he is only nine minutes outside the top 10, which is a fine objective for the first outing of a 4×4 with a hybrid engine on the Dakar.

#200 Peterhansel Stéphane (fra), Boulanger Edouard (fra), Team Audi Sport, Audi RS Q e-tron, Auto FIA T1/T2, action during the Stage 8 of the Dakar Rally 2022 between Al Dawadimi and Wadi Ad Dawasir, on January 10th 2022 in Wadi Ad Dawasir, Saudi Arabia © Frédéric Le Floch / DPPI

During the 2021 edition, she caused a sensation by becoming the first woman to win a stage on the Dakar
since Jutta Kleinschmidt in 2005. Cristina Gutiérrez confirmed her prowess later in that year by winning the T3 rally-raid world cup. As a result, she logically featured among the favourites at the start of the rally on 1st January, alongside her faithful co-pilot François Cazalet. Immediately at the forefront of the race, she soon came unstuck on stage 3 due to a technical problem that cost her 1 hour and 30 minutes. She was not rattled though – it would take more than that to put her off. After two fourth place finishes on the following brace of specials, Gutiérrez returned to the podium on stages 6 and 7 in second place both times. These results even allowed her to commence the day in third position in the general rankings, admittedly two hours behind the leader, but with genuine hopes of the overall top 3… However, another mechanical problem put paid to these ambitions after 50 km of the day’s special. The Red Bull duo managed to find a solution and resume the race, but at a big cost: 3 hours trickled away into the sand. The Spaniard and the Frenchman can most probably kiss their hopes of a final podium finish goodbye, but in the Dakar, it is never over until it really is over… After all, they are only 2 hours from the third step on the podium, now occupied by another Franco-Spanish duo, Fernando Alvarez-Xavier Panseri, and today’s stage has shown that all it needs is one special to undo all the good work…

#509 Karginov Andrey (rus), Mokeev Andrey (rus), Malkov Ivan (rus), Kamaz-Master, Kamaz 43509, T5 FIA Camion, action during the Stage 8 of the Dakar Rally 2022 between Al Dawadimi and Wadi Ad Dawasir, on January 10th 2022 in Wadi Ad Dawasir, Saudi Arabia © Frédéric Le Floch / DPPI

STAT OF THE DAY: 100,13 km/h
Since the opening day, the truck race title holder Dmitry Sotnikov has won three specials. The Russian now leads the general rankings with an advantage of more than ten minutes over his team-mate Eduard Nikolaev. As incredible as it may seem, the trucks boast a high pace on the Dakar, comparable to the speed of the cars and their colleagues on two wheels. Sotnikov was a perfect illustration of this today: he took 3:56’42’’ to reach the finishing line on the day’s special at an average speed of 100.13 km/h. In the car category, this time would have seen him finish 15th two seconds behind the Toyota driven by Bernhard Ten Brinke. What’s more, if Sotnikov was competing in the bike race, he would have finished in the wake of Toby Price and Mason Klein (who once again admirably competed with the big hitters to confirm that his podium finish on stage 3 was far from a damp squib). As a comparison, Mattias Ekström’s average speed was 106.11 km/h whilst Sam Sunderland’s was 103.03 km/h. It just goes to show that the trucks do not compare unfavourably to their companions in the Dakar adventure among the other categories.

#402 Domzala Aron (pol), Marton Maciej (pol), Can-Am Factory South Racing, Can-Am XRS, T4 FIA SSV, W2RC, Motul, action during the Stage 8 of the Dakar Rally 2022 between Al Dawadimi and Wadi Ad Dawasir, on January 10th 2022 in Wadi Ad Dawasir, Saudi Arabi © Frédéric Le Floch / DPPI

W2RC : Advantage Loeb
Sébastien Loeb’s counterattack on the day’s stage was not in vain on all fronts. The second placed driver in
the general rankings was the quickest of the participants in the world rally-raid championship. The five points he won have enabled him to overtake Al-Attiyah and the score is 28-25, with the ball in Loeb’s court tomorrow morning! It was a poor harvest for their nearest pursuers, but a very interesting one for Mathieu Serradori in his Century buggy, who climbs onto the second step of the day’s podium. This allows the South African constructor to tie with Mini. Indeed, Przygoński put his X-Raid Mini at the bottom of the podium, with the scores at 7 points each for the SRT driver and the Pole. At the same time as he has been dazzling everybody with his festival of stage wins, Seth Quintero has also been pulling away from “Chaleco” López each day and now leads him by 35 points to 29. In the T4 class, victory once again went to Marek Goczał, who leads his brother Michał by 2 points and Austin Jones by 4 points on the day’s world rally-raid championship podium. Lastly, in the T5 class, Martin Macík is still in magical form, with a total that has now risen to 38 points. Šoltys will have to keep a watchful eye on Koolen who has settled into 2nd place in the championship over the last four days with a total of 30 points.

#303 Quintero Seth (usa), Zenz Dennis (ger), Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team, OT3 – 02, T3 FIA, W2RC, action during the Stage 8 of the Dakar Rally 2022 between Al Dawadimi and Wadi Ad Dawasir, on January 10th 2022 in Wadi Ad Dawasir, Saudi Arabia © Florent Gooden / DPPI

Ari Vatanen’s Peugeot 205 Turbo 16 is back on the Dakar! To be precise, it is an “identical replica” of the
most legendary of all the factory vehicles from the 1980s. Indeed, Philippe Jacquot possesses the original
article, the second version from 1988-1989 of the Grand Raid that belonged to the great Ari. Out of respect for this “piece of historical motorsport heritage”, he has never envisaged taking the wheel at the risk of breaking it… because the Jacquot family have generations of breaking yard experience! More prosaically called “endof-life vehicle recyclers”, thirty years in the profession in the region of the Lion-brand constructor have enabled them to collect original parts and precious Peugeot Sport elements essential for a puzzle assembled right down to the last millimetre. It is his son Rudy who eventually took starter’s orders on the Dakar Classic after an extraordinary family game of musical chairs. Co-pilot William Alcazar, with twenty-five Dakar rallies under his belt, still cannot get over the welcome reserved for this special vehicle: “It’s not the most powerful in the field – there are the two Protrucks and the Mitsubishis that are ten years younger which have much better suspension. In fact, we’re second in the H3 (higher average speed) category, behind the Protruck driven by the Galpins. They trained with Isabelle Patissier in Morocco. I’ve taken part in twenty-five Dakar rallies, but I’ve never done the race for consistency. We struggled a bit at the start against the specialists who do it every Sunday, but over the last few days, we’ve got caught up in the game. Fortunately, we’re in the higher average speed class, meaning we can drive at a good pace. In any event, this car is a real magnet, everybody loves it and wants to take a photo of it. We were expecting it a bit, but we weren’t expecting it to be this popular”.

Sébastien Loeb: “We tried really hard from the start” The BRX team driver is continuing his game of cat and mouse behind Nasser Al Attiyah: 7 minutes won today, but still a deficit of 35 minutes in the general rankings. “It was not easy. We pushed really hard from the start until the end because we were opening the road, so we just wanted to stay ahead and not have Nasser following. We tried really hard from the start, but I had a puncture. We changed the wheel quickly and finally we continued like that until the neutralisation point when we saw that we had lost our spare wheel and it was the only one we had left, so I was a bit careful at the end, but I think in the end I drove a good stage. The navigation was good with no mistakes, so it shouldn’t be too bad. I don’t know if we’ve gained on Nasser. We’re here and he hasn’t arrived yet so I don’t know what the gap will be at the end”.

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