The gruelling 2022 edition of the Dakar continues with more thrills, falls and heartbreak as hopefuls and legends alike battle the desolate Saudi Arabian landscape with a singular objective in mind: the Dakar ’22 trophy.
The earlier, and somewhat poetic, resurgence of the Audi brand battling the dunes looks to be short-lived as the team in the electric e-Trons aren't battling the usual EV woes but instead, keep falling short on the suspension front.
Stage 3 winner, Carlos Sainz, broke a shock absorber and in true sportsman's-like fashion teammate, Stéphane Peterhansel who, after a myriad of issues doesn't have a snowball's chance, graciously (we assume) gifted one on of his to the Spaniard who is still in with a chance of a top 20 finish.
Meanwhile, the motorsport deities smiled on South African drivers during stage 5 with the Toyota Gazoo Racing Hilux driver-navigator pairing of Henk Lategan and Brett Cummings winning the stage two minutes clear of Sebastian Loeb. This despite a faulty door and two punctures. Giniel de Villiers and navigator Dennis Murphy in another Hilux took the 6th spot for the stage while Century Racing’s Christiaan Visser and Rodney Burke finished the day on 9th.
Stage 6 proved to be a big ask for the front-runners who, in a similar fashion to the bike category that passed through this specific stage a day earlier, also raced around in circles looking for the respective waypoints and, in the process, losing significant chunks of time. Most notably is Sebastian Loeb who lost a precious 15 minutes, ending the stage 25th and conceding his overall 2nd position to Yazeed Al Rajhi who seems to be playing the consistency game quite well.
And the Audis? Well, let's just say that the once favourites in the form of Mr Dakar (Peterhansel) and Carlos Sainz will be well versed in all things wheel-change and suspension after this year’s competition. Such is the price of progress, though. Meanwhile, teammate Mattias Ekstrom capitalised on the navigational confusion to finish the stage in second, one minute adrift from Orlando Terranova in his biofuel-powered Prodrive who secured his first stage win in seven years.
For Sebastian Loeb in his Bahrain Raid Xtreme Prodrive, the seventh stage of the world’s toughest rally put a decently-sized smile on his face with his second stage win of the 2022 Dakar despite an engine issue, chipping another five-minute chunk out of leader, Nasser Al-Attiyah’s lead who finished in second place. It was also a good day for the team in general with former winner Nani Roma securing a respectable 9th on the day.
Even Team Audi had three reasons for smiling with top 10 finishes all-round. Carlos Sainz finished the stage in 3rd, Stéphane Peterhansel in 4th while Mattias Ekstrom clawed his way into 8th.
With the unpredictability factor ever-present, anything can still happen in the world’s toughest rally. For now, though, Al-Attiyah clings to the lead with a firm 45-minute grip over Loeb who, in turn, holds a relatively narrow nine-minute lead on Yazeed Al Rajhi.