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Al-Attiyah Closing In On Dakar Title

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, January 8 2023

Nasser Al-Attiyah relentlessly remained on-course for a fifth Dakar Rally title Saturday, as Mitch Guthrie Jr. and Rokas Baciuška each secured wins during Stage Seven of the 45th edition of motorsport’s toughest test of endurance.

Jan. 7/Stage 7/Riyadh-Al Duwadimi/Distance-Total/Special: 528-kilometers/333-kilometers

_ While Stage Seven was cancelled for competitors on bikes and quads, there was no break for teams traversing the Saudi Arabian landscape on four wheels as cars, trucks and side-by-sides tackled the challenging route.

_ It was status quo at the front of the car race, as defending champion Nasser Al-Attiyah and co-driver Mathieu Baumel hold an advantage of more than one hour over their closest competitors. “This was really not an easy stage,” said Al-Attiyah, 52, of Qatar. “We were really pushing a lot from the beginning. We lost a few minutes but we took care to put ourselves in a good position for tomorrow.”

_ It was another solid day for Rokas Baciuška of the Red Bull Can-Am Factory Team as the Lithuanian and co-driver Oriol Mena secured a third stage win and now sit top of the overall T4 rankings.

_ Saturday’s stage also produced a hat-trick of wins for the Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team USA presented by BFGoodrich, courtesy of American Mitch Guthrie Jr. and co-driver Kellon Walch. The duo took the win after some tight racing against teammates Seth Quintero/Dennis Zenz and race-leaders Guillaume De Mevius/François Cazalet.

_ Sunday is scheduled to see the bikes and quads rejoin the rally for Stage Eight. A 345-kilometer timed special stage will be the final business of this Dakar’s first week.

Jan. 6/Stage 6/Ha’il-Riyadh/Distance-Total/Special: 560-kilometers/358-kilometers

Quick-thinkers Nasser Al-Attiyah, Toby Price and Guillaume De Mevius avoided mayhem during Friday’s dramatic Stage Six of the 45th Dakar Rally, which was re-routed to Riyadh.

_ Stage Six required the field to react in the moment over a shortened special stage and huge liaison route to Riyadh _ the course changed due to heavy flooding in the Al Duwadimi region of Saudi Arabia. Car leader Nasser Al-Attiyah scored a second consecutive stage win with co-driver Mathieu Baumel while Team Audi Sport rivals Stéphane Peterhansel/Edouard Boulanger and Carlos Sainz/Lucas Cruz saw their title hopes end in separate crashes.

A four-time Dakar champion, Al-Attiyah now has a lead of over one hour with rookie crew Lucas Moraes/Timo Gottschalk enjoying another solid day in third overall.

“We pushed a lot and for the last 40-kilometers we had a broken steering pump,” said Al-Attiayh, 52, of Qatar. “We lost steering and a lot of oil. Thankfully we could make it to the end of the stage.”

_ Less than 20 minutes separates the top eight riders in the bike race, as two-time winner Toby Price claimed third to consolidate second overall. Meanwhile, it was a productive day for Belgian Guillaume De Mevius and co-driver François Cazalet as they set the day’s fastest T3 time to increase their overall lead. And the Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team USA presented by BFGoodrich crews of Seth Quintero/Dennis Zenz and A.J. Jones/Gustavo Gugelmin continued to shine.

_ There will be no bike race during Saturday’s reconfigured Stage Seven due to competitor fatigue, with the remainder of the convoy trekking from Riyadh to the Al Duwadimi bivouac via a 333-kilometer timed special. At the end of the special stage, competitors will be permitted two hours with their mechanics to sort out repairs. After that session, competitors only will head to the Al Duwadimi bivouac, where their vehicles will spend the night in parc fermé.

Jan. 5/Stage 5/Ha’il-Ha’il/Distance-Total/Special: 645.04-kilometers/373-kilometers

Nasser Al-Attiyah, Toby Price, Seth Quintero and Rokas Baciuška all starred during Thursday’s punishing Stage Five of the 45th Dakar Rally, motorsport’s toughest test of endurance.


_ The compact sand of Stage Five presented plenty of problems. However, the result couldn’t have gone much better for defending car champion Nasser Al-Attiyah and co-driver Mathieu Baumel in their Toyota GR DKR Hilux T1+. “It was a very tough stage,” said Al-Attiyah, 52, of Qatar. “We tried to push like crazy and took a lot of risk. Now we’re tired after pushing so much.”

_ The event organizers have permitted Team Audi Sport to increase the maximum power of its Audi RS Q e-tron E2 cars, with Stéphane Peterhansel/Edouard Boulanger and Carlos Sainz/Lucas Cruz both making use of the extra input to record the second and third-fastest times, respectively. The Frenchman said: “This was one of the hardest stages of my life. We took a lot of impact on the back and the neck.”

_Illness and collisions have shaken-up the bike standings, with leader Daniel Sanders of Australia forced to ride well within himself after waking up and feeling sick. The Red Bull KTM Factory Racing duo of Toby Price and Argentine Kevin Benavides took advantage to move up to second and third overall. The 35-year-old Price said, “Barreda had a crash so we stopped for him for about five or six minutes to make sure he was all good. I also went down, so I’ve got to get my shoulder sorted for the next day.”

_ Spaniard Laia Sanz and co-driver Maurizio Gerini crashed-out but were unharmed. Also, Rally2 biker Camille Chapelière will return to his French home early to recover from an arm injury.

_ The T3 contest featured a fightback from Seth Quintero of the Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team USA presented by BFGoodrich. The 20-year-old American and co-driver Dennis Zenz moved within 15 minutes of race-leaders Guillaume De Mevius/François Cazalet.

_ Rokas Baciuška and co-driver Oriol Vidal scored another T4 stage win, with the 23-year-old Lithuanian moving 4-minutes, 33-seconds closer to the top of the leaderboard.

_ The Saudi Arabian odyssey from coast-to-coast continues during Friday’s Stage Six, with the 467-kilometer timed special stage including a barrage of dunes over the final third. 

Jan. 4/Stage 4/Ha’il-Ha’il/Distance-Total/Special: 574.01-kilometers/425-kilometers

Sébastien Loeb, Daniel Sanders and Mitch Guthrie Jr. eclipsed their rivals during Wednesday’s tricky Stage Four.

_ The relentless pace of the 2023 race through Saudi Arabia continued with 425-kilometers against the clock across camel grass, desert canyons and sand dunes. That was the landscape as Dakar heavyweights Sebastien Loeb/Fabian Lurquin and Stéphane Peterhansel/Edouard Boulanger battled it out. Both crews led the stage at various points in the car category before nine-time WRC winner Loeb, of France, bolted over the finish line 13-seconds quicker than 14-time Dakar winner Peterhansel.

“We tried to push really hard on this stage,” Loeb said. “We were on full-attack all the time.”

_ Australian star Daniel Sanders finished eighth in the two-wheel category, a result good enough to claim the overall bike lead after the route had been drastically altered by heavy rain. “I haven’t really done any opening with roadbooks since the last Dakar,” said Sanders, 28. “It was tricky navigation.”

_ Another T3 stage win for the Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team USA presented by BFGoodrich went into the record books courtesy of American Mitch Guthrie Jr. and co-driver Kellon Walch. That pair now leads the T3 rankings followed by Guillaume De Mevius/François Cazalet in second and A.J. Jones/Gustavo Gugelmin in third.

“They took us up a lot of big dunes on this stage,” said Guthrie, 26, of Glendora, Calif. “My co-rider, Kellon, and me had to work really well together to decide which dunes to climb and which ones to go around.”

_ Thursday’s Stage Five features 373-kilometers against the clock with a loop stage around the Ha’il bivouac. 

Jan. 3/Stage 3/Aluha-Ha’il/Distance-Total/Special: 669.15-kilometers/447-kilometers

Daniel Sanders, Austin Jones and Nasser Al-Attiyah battled treacherous weather-affected conditions during Tuesday’s Stage Three of Dakar.

_ Rain totally disrupted Stage Three, with the last 100-kilometers washed away. However, defending car champion Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar built upon Monday’s Stage Two victory with a solid drive to claim the overall lead while legendary Carlos Sainz of Spain was halted for almost half an hour in his Audi RS Q e-tron E2.

_ Australian Daniel Sanders excelled again as the Red Bull GASGAS Factory Racing bike rider won to cut Mason Klein’s overall lead to 1-minute, 48-seconds. The 28-year-old Sanders _ known in the bivouac as “Chucky” _ said of his strategy, “The idea was to win the stage by catching the guys in front _ and it’s worked out really well.”

_ Red Bull KTM Factory Racing riders have claimed the overall bike top-five thanks to Argentine Kevin Benavides, while teammates and fellow-former Dakar winners Toby Price and Matthias Walkner are in the top-10.

_ Despite conditions, solid results continued for the Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team USA presented by BFGoodrich. American Austin Jones won the stage while compatriot Seth Quintero took the overall T3 lead with Lithuanian Rokas Baciuška’s third-place in T4 boosting him to fourth overall.

_ Wednesday’s Stage Four definitely will turn up the degree of difficulty via a 425-kilometer jaunt against the clock, the loop stage around the Ha’il bivouac starting with a chain of dunes measuring over 100-kilometers and several navigational pitfalls.

Jan. 2/Stage 2/Sea Camp-Aluha/Distance-Total/Special: 589.07-kilometers/430- kilometers

Nasser Al-Attiyah, Daniel Sanders and Mitch Guthrie excelled over Stage Two’s dangerous boulders in Saudi Arabia.

_ Over 400-kilometers during Monday’s Stage Two brought competitors through dangerous boulders, as defending champion Nasser Al-Attiyah and co-driver Mathieu Baumel cut into Carlos Sainz’s overall car lead with a victory in their Toyota Hilux T1+. The 52-year-old Al-Attiyah said, “Mathieu did a really good job with the navigation; it wasn’t easy today.”

_ BRX Hunter driver Sébastien Loeb forfeited over an hour to race-leader Sainz, while Sainz’s fellow-Team Audi Sport drivers Stéphane Peterhansel of France and Swede Mattias Ekström were both more than 30 minutes behind Al-Attiyah, of Qatar.

_ Australian Daniel Sanders eased off his bike throttle late to ensure an easier start to Stage Three, with Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Toby Price and Kevin Benavides also in the top-five overall. “I slowed down a bit because we already know that tomorrow is going to be another really tough day,” said Sanders, 28. “I wasn’t after the stage win today.”

_ American Mitch Guthrie of the Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team USA delivered a first stage win in his T3-M by MCE5 and a perfect birthday present for co-driver Kellon Walch. Guthrie, 26, said, “Kellon did great today with navigation and the car was awesome.”

_ Tuesday’s Stage Three schedule points the convoy towards Ha’il via a timed special stage measuring 447-kilometers, a course featuring more big boulders and steep canyons to navigate before ending on the dunes.

Jan. 1/Stage 1/Sea Camp-Sea Camp

Sunday’s Stage One on the sands of Saudi Arabia saw the bike race’s defending champion crash out, while fresh-faced challengers excelled.

_ New Year’s Day rang-in with an ultra-tough 368-kilometer loop stage around the Dakar’s Sea Camp in Yanbu, with motorsports legend Carlos Sainz of Spain claiming his 42nd Dakar stage win in an Audi RS Q e-tron E2 alongside co-driver Lucas Cruz. The 60-year-old Sainz said, “We had one puncture at the beginning, so after that we proceeded with caution over the stones.”

_ Englishman Sam Sunderland’s defense of his bike title ended 52-kilometers into the stage with 2020 winner Ricky Brabec of the United States topping the timesheets. The Red Bull KTM Factory Racing duo of Kevin Benavides and Toby Price were within a minute of Brabec, as well as Australian Daniel Sanders. “I kept clear of any big mistakes and just kept cruising; it was fun out there,” Sanders said.

_ Chilean Chaleco López’s Dakar started where his last one finished _ in the overall lead of the T3 category _ as the defending champ took the stage win for the Red Bull Can-Am Factory Team alongside co-driver Juan Pablo Latrach. Meanwhile, Rokas Baciuška and Oriol Vidal delivered another winning result in the T4 category. The Lithuanian said, “This was just the first stage, but it already feels like proper Dakar.”

_ Monday’s Stage Two will see the convoy leave Sea Camp and head east to Alula. Giant boulders and deep canyons will be featured throughout the 430-kilometer timed special stage as well as a chain of desert dunes.

Dec. 31/Prologue/Sea Camp-Sea Camp

Mattias Ekström, Cristina Gutiérrez and Toby Price starred during the opening prologue stage.

_ A short, sharp 13-kilometer Saturday prologue track on the shores of the Red Sea determined starting positions for Sunday’s 368-kilometer timed special stage. A total of 603 competitors in 355 vehicles were involved, mostly in less than 10 minutes, to launch the race.

_ Two-time DTM championship winner Mattias Ekström of Sweden piloted his Audi RS Q e-tron E2 for the first time, recording the day’s fastest time across all categories (eight minutes) to claim an early lead in the T1 car class standings.

_ In the T3 race, Cristina Gutiérrez set the fastest time with co-driver Pablo Moreno as she looks to improve on third place overall at the previous Dakar. The Spaniard, 31, said, “I’m feeling really happy with the car and team; the mentality is really positive.”

_ Former bike champion Toby Price won for the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team with Australian compatriot Daniel Sanders in second.

Nightly coverage of Dakar in the United States began Sunday, Jan. 1, at 6:30 p.m. (EST) on Peacock and will continue through Sunday, Jan. 15. Highlights of every show (all 14 stages and the rest day), exclusive racer interviews and features will be available on Peacock and NBC Sports digital platforms.

CNBC will present three, hour-long encore presentations throughout the event (Saturday, Jan. 7, at noon (EST); Sunday, Jan. 8, at 11 a.m. (EST) and Sunday, Jan. 15, at noon (EST) that will be streamed on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

Here is the complete same-day coverage schedule of the 2023 Dakar Rally on Peacock and CNBC:

Sunday, Jan. 1 _ Stage 1, Sea Camp (6:30 p.m., EST, on Peacock)

Monday, Jan. 2 _ Stage 2, Sea Camp to Alula (6:30 p.m. on Peacock)

Tuesday, Jan. 3 _ Stage 3, Alula to Ha’il (6:30 p.m. on Peacock)

Wednesday, Jan. 4 _ Stage 4, Ha’il (6:30 p.m. on Peacock)

Thursday, Jan. 5 _ Stage 5, Ha’il (6:30 p.m. on Peacock)

Friday, Jan. 6 _ Stage 6, Ha’il to Al Duwadimi (6:30 p.m. on Peacock)

Saturday, Jan. 7 _ Stages 5 and 6 (Encore presentation at noon on CNBC)

Saturday, Jan. 7 _ Stage 7, Al Duwadimi (6:30 p.m. on Peacock)

Sunday, Jan. 8 _ Stages 6 and 7 (Encore presentation at 11 a.m. on CNBC)

Sunday, Jan. 8 _ Stage 8, Al Duwadimi to Riyadh (6:30 p.m. on Peacock)

Monday, Jan. 9 _ Rest Day (6:30 p.m. on Peacock)

Tuesday, Jan. 10 _ Stage 9, Riyadh to Haradh (6:30 p.m. on Peacock)

Wednesday, Jan. 11 _ Stage 10, Haradh to Shaybah (6:30 p.m. on Peacock)

Thursday, Jan. 12 _ Stage 11, Shaybah to Empty Quarter Marathon (6:30 p.m. on Peacock)

Friday, Jan. 13 _ Stage 12, Empty Quarter Marathon to Shaybah (6:30 p.m. on Peacock)

Saturday, Jan. 14 _ Stage 13, Shaybah to Al-Hofuf (6:30 p.m. on Peacock)

Sunday, Jan. 15 _ Stages 12 and 13 (Encore presentation at noon on CNBC)

Sunday, Jan. 15 _ Stage 14, Al-Hofuf to Dammam (6:30 p.m. on Peacock)


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, January 8 2023
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