By Sports Reporter/Ha’il, Saudi Arabia
After a day’s rest, Qatar’s Nasser Saleh al-Attiyah will be hoping to bounce back into title contention as Dakar Rally resumes today. Al-Attiyah is second in the overall standings, 5:53 seconds behind 13-time Dakar champion Stephane Peterhansel.
Al-Attiyah, a three-time winner of world’s toughest off-road rally, has been fast and aggressive in his Toyota Gazoo but problems with his tyres have put him in a spot of bother. The Qatar and his French co-driver Matthieu Baumel have suffered two punctures and lost valuable time.
The Qatari, though, has been as unerring throughout the opening week, claiming four stage victories (including the prologue) and ratcheting up the pressure on the overall leader Peterhansel. He has a knack for pushing his rivals until they crack.
Of the 286 total entries cleared to start the 2021 Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia, 231 (78 motorbikes, 14 quads, 56 cars, 49 lightweight vehicles and 34 trucks) have survived the prologue and opening six stages and made it to the rest day. A further 26 vehicles have withdrawn from the race but remain eligible to continue the adventure under “Dakar Experience” rules without appearing in the general standings.
Khalifa al-Attiyah placed ninth in T4 category
Meanwhile, in the T4 category, Nasser’s young brother Khalifa al-Attiyah is at ninth place after a poor start. Khalifa al-Attiyah and navigator Paulo Ceci worked together for the first time shortly before Christmas and won the second of the Ha’il Bajas in South Racing-built Can-Ams.
That new Qatari-Italian partnership has gone from strength to strength ever since and the Doha-based driver has recovered well from losing almost two hours on the first stage. He slipped down to 56th overall after that first special but a fourth, a ninth, a second and a fastest time on stage six have lifted the Qatari into ninth place at the rest day.
The South Racing Can-Am Team has enjoyed a superb first half of the Dakar Rally. All 12 of the South Racing-entered cars are still running after six special stages with Polish driver Aron Domzala currently leading the SSV T4 category and South Racing-built cars winning the Prologue and five of the six timed tests.
Francisco Lopez and fellow Chilean navigator Juan Pablo Latrach led the SSV T4 event outright from the second stage and picked up daily victories on stages three and five in their Copec-supported Can-Am before losing over an hour following an accident over a sand dune on day six.
That delay dropped the 2019 winner down to third overall and lifted Dom?ala and navigator Maciej Marton into an outright lead of just 40 seconds in the first of four Monster Energy Can-Am Team cars. Dom?ala won the fourth stage and has never been outside the top three since the Prologue.
Young American Austin Jones and his Brazilian co-driver Gustavo Gugelmin crew the second of four Monster Energy Can-Ams, built by South Racing, and Jones was the early leader of the rally after winning both the Prologue and the opening stage. He slipped to fifth overall after stage two and moved up to second overall on the sixth test after running in third for the last three days.
Brazilian Reinaldo Varela and Spaniard Gerard Farrés are taking part in the third and fourth of the Monster Energy-backed Can-Ams and hold sixth and 15th at the rest day with their respective co-drivers Maykel Justo and Armand Monleón.
Varela had been running as high as fourth overall after SS1 but navigational issues cost him valuable time, as did a minor accident. Farrés climbed as high as third overall after stage two, but the Spaniard lost two and a half hours on stage five and the second quickest time on the stage into Ha’il was the former enduro rider’s best return thus far. He was plagued by electrical and fuel issues early in the race with the latter solved in time for him to deliver a stunning sixth stage performance.
The Portuguese crew of Lourenço Rosa and Joaquim Dias crew the sixth of the South Racing Can-Am Team T4s. They set four top 10 stage times on the driver’s first Dakar and have climbed into contention for a top 10 finish. Rosa currently holds 10th place.
Dutchman Kees Koolen came into the Dakar on the back of sealing the FIA T4 world title before Christmas, but he and fellow countryman Jürgen van der Goorbergh have yet to challenge the front-runners at the Dakar. Koolen’s best stage performance came with the sixth quickest time on SS3 and he reached Ha’il in 11th position.
Spaniards, Fernando Alvarez and Antonio Gimeno Garcia, have delivered consistent results each day in their Conarpesa-backed Can-Am. They climbed to 13th overall after day three and reached the rest day in a similar position in the rankings.
Local driver Saeed al-Mouri teamed up with Uruguay’s Sergio Lafuente and has been running mid-way through the 44-car field since the start of the event in Jeddah on January 2nd. He holds 23rd overall.
South Racing is also running two Can-Ams under the Polish Energylandia Rally Team banner for driving brothers Marek and Michal Goczal. Michal and his co-driver Szymon Gospodarczyk have faired the better of the two. They set four top five stage times and hold fifth at the rest day. Brother Marek and navigator Rafal Marton are classified in 12th overall.
The Dakar Rally resumes today with a selective section from Ha’il to Sakaka, as the route winds its way through the cooler northern deserts during the second week, taking in additional night halts in Neom, Al-Ula and Yanbu before the finish in Jeddah next Friday.
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