Jeddah, 8 January 2023 - Toyota’s defending champion Nasser Saleh al-Attiyah retained a comfortable lead of more than an hour after the Dakar Rally’s seventh stage in Saudi Arabia yesterday on another tough day for rivals Audi.
The Qatari, who played it safe in the first part of a marathon stage, had earlier apologised for an outburst on social media during the week about a rule change he feared would favour Audi.
The German marque’s hopes of a first Dakar win for an electrically-powered car evaporated for another year on Friday when leading challengers Stephane Peterhansel and Carlos Sainz both crashed in the desert dunes. Sainz started yesterday, but in 68th place and with a penalty of 28 hours and 45 minutes for failing to complete the sixth stage, while Peterhansel withdrew after co-driver Edouard Boulanger ended up in hospital.
Audi suffered a further setback when remaining contender Mattias Ekstroem, winner of last weekend’s prologue, stopped with mechanical problems and Sainz halted alongside to provide assistance. The seventh stage from Riyadh to Al Duwadimi, featuring a 333km special stage and 861km in all, was won by Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed al-Rajhi for Overdrive Racing — his third career stage win and first of 2023.
Al-Rajhi and his German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz mastered the testing stage to bounce back after losing over five hours on Friday because of technical problems. Despite starting in 40th place near the back of the field, al-Rajhi finished 8min 54sec ahead of Lithuanian driver Vaidotas Zala after the shortened 333km timed special to Al Duwadimi.
The Saudi picked up his third career Dakar stage win and the first one in this year’s race, but remains over five hours behind the overall leader. “I’d say I have the best co-driver,” said al-Rajhi. “We attacked. It wasn’t easy to start from the back and overtake all the little cars, often going left and right in the wadis, but we did a great job.”
Al-Attiyah now leads South African team mate Henk Lategan by an hour one minute and four seconds, a loss of just five minutes overall. Before the fifth stage he had accused organisers of “killing the race early” with the decision to allow more power to cars using renewable energy.
“In the heat of the moment, I reacted harshly to the FIA’s EOT (Equivalence of Technology) decision,” he posted on Instagram after the sixth stage. “I like to defend my title fairly and at the first instant the decision did not seem fair. I now understand the situation better, and would like to apologise for my earlier post.”
Al-Attiyah has been staying out of trouble since his opponents knocked themselves out of contention as he finished 14th yesterday. “We had to open the special without any tracks ahead of us. Glen and Seb overtook us. The navigation was tricky and all of a sudden there were three or four cars locked in a duel. The last 20-30 kilometres were crazy,” he said.
Only the cars and trucks were racing with organisers cancelling the stage for motorcycles due to the weather and rider fatigue. The bikes and quads instead took the road to Al Duwadimi. American Skyler Howes leads the motorcycle classification for Husqvarna, one minute and 55 seconds clear of Australian Toby Price with Argentina’s Kevin Benavides third.
Classification after Stage 7
1. Nasser al-Attiyah/Mathieu Baumel (Toyota) 27hr26m23s
2. Henk Lategan/Brett Cummings (Toyota) +1h01m04s
3. Lucas Moraes/Timo Gottschalk (Overdrive Toyota) +1h11m24s
4. Giniel de Villiers/Dennis Murphy (Toyota) +1h36m47s
5. Sebastien Loeb/Fabian Lurquin (Bahrain Raid Xtreme) +1h54m17s
6. Romain Dumas/Max Delfino (Rebellion Toyota) +2h12m30s
7. Brian Baragwanath/Leonard Cremer (Century) +2h14m40s
8. Martin Prokop/Viktor Chytka (Orlen Ford) +2h17m26s
9. Wei Han/Ma Li (SMG) +2h51m38s
10. Lionel Baud/Rémi Boulanger (Overdrive Toyota) +3h17m59s