Jeddah, 2 January 2022 - Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah got off to a winning start in his quest for fourth Dakar Rally title after clinching the 19km prologue between Jeddah and Ha’il in Saudi Arabia yesterday.
The ace Qatari driver and his French co-driver Mathieu Baumel set the fastest time of 10 minute 56 seconds in their upgraded Toyota GR DKR Hilux T1+ to lead Carlos Sainz of Audi by 12 seconds. Brian Baragwanath was a surprise third for the Century Racing marque, leading Toyota’s Henk Lategan and Nine-time World Rally champion Sebastien Loeb.
A three-time winner – in 2011, 2015 and 2019 – of the toughest race on the planet, Al Attiyah will now open today’s 334km loop stage around the Ha’il bivouac. Al Attiyah said: “It was a short stage today. I’m quite happy to win because it’s good for our starting position tomorrow. I’m happy with the performance of our new car. The team’s hard work is helping us a lot.”
The 14-time winner and defending champions Stephane Peterhansel could only manage 14th, with his Audi teammate Mattias Ekstrom one place further behind.
While Peterhansel started off slowly, team-mate Sainz went the opposite way and laid down a marker of what Audi’s new electric car can achieve by ending up just over 10 second shy of Al Attiyah’s benchmark.
Sanz said: “It was a good prologue stage for us. The feeling was good throughout. We stayed really calm. Maybe we could have pushed a bit more, but it was the first day. Tomorrow starts the real race and we will see what our base level is.”
Peterhansel was first on the road but took things carefully on the short stage.
“At the start of the stage, when I saw the clock counting down, it was an emotional moment, because a lot of work has gone into this for months and months,” Peterhansel said.
The opening salvo to this year’s Dakar took the crews 223 kms from the official start in Jeddah to the 19- test; a varied stage featuring mainly sinuous and undulating sandy tracks, as well as three miles of dunes with a particularly precarious downhill stretch in the closing sections.
With the top 10 fastest free to choose their own road order starting position for the first stage, a 206-mile loop around the northern city of Ha’il, the importance of setting a quick time was not lost on the field of 87 T1 class cars from the off.
The drivers are now overnighting 810 kms from the start in Jeddah after a long road section before a 333 km stage on Sunday, looping around Hail in the mountainous landscapes of northern Saudi Arabia. It will be a stage riddled with navigation puzzles typical of the area and the spirit of the Dakar with big rocks in the early stages and some big sweeping sand to finish off.
Meanwhile, Australia’s Daniel Sanders took first place in the bike category. The last year’s top rookie Sanders led the way for GasGas, finishing a full minute ahead of Pablo Quintanilla.
Sanders was joined in the top five by KTM Factory Racing duo Kevin Benavides (fourth) of Argentina and Austria’s Matthias Walkner (fifth). Former champion Sam Sunderland was seventh, while two-time winner Toby Price was one place further back in eighth.
Dakar Rally prologue result
1 Nasser Al Attiyah/Mathieu Baumel (Toyota) +10m56s
2 Carlos Sainz/Lucas Cruz (Audi) +12s
3 Brian Baragwanath/Leonard Cremer (Century) +36s
4 Henk Lategan/Brett Cumming (Toyota) +36s
5 Sébastien Loeb/Fabian Lurquin (Bahrain Raid Xtreme) +37s
6 Yazeed Al Rajhi/Michael Orr (Overdrive Toyota) +47s
7 Nani Roma/Alex Haro Bravo (Bahrain Raid Xtreme) +49s
8 Giniel de Villiers/Dennis Murphy (Toyota) +50s
9 Kuba Przygónski/Timo Gottschalk (X-raid Mini JCW) +1m01s
10 Orlando Terranova/Dani Oliveras (Bahrain Raid Xrtreme) +1m06s