Team Audi Sport’s Sainz and Cruz lead the Dakar Rally at the rest day in Riyadh

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Team Audi Sport’s Carlos Sainz and Lucas Cruz led the 46th Dakar Rally by 20min 21sec at the traditional rest day in Riyadh after six gruelling special stages through the deserts of Saudi Arabia.

The opening round of the 2024 FIA World Rally-Raid Championship (W2RC) has been one of the most difficult in recent memory with the outright lead changing four times during the opening week. Four-time champion Sainz has yet to win a stage but a clever strategy and consistent driving have seen the Spaniard in contention on every stage from the start in Al-Ula on January 5th to the day of rest in Riyadh on Saturday.

Starting 17th on the road for the punishing 48-hour push through the Empty Quarter on stage six paid dividends and Sainz has guided his Audi RS Q E-Tron E2 to a useful cushion over Swedish team-mates Mattias Ekström and Emil Bergkvist.

The Spaniard said: “I think we managed to do a good job. At the end (stage six) I had a problem and got stuck in one place. We lost some minutes, but we are happy at the moment. If you asked before this week, would we be leading I would say I am happy. But there is still a long way to go. It’s still very open”.

With the third-placed crew of Sébastien Loeb and Fabian Lurquin not registered for the W2RC on this occasion in their BRX Prodrive Hunter, Toyota Gazoo Racing’s third-stage winner Lucas Moraes heads the challenge for W2RC points with his Spanish co-driver Armad Monleón in fourth place, despite rolling in stage five.

Overdrive Racing’s Guillaume de Mévius and Xavier Panseri won the opening stage and are well-placed in fifth overall after an impressive first week in the desert.

Behind South African veteran and 2009 event winner Giniel de Villiers, the Czech duo of Martin Prokop and Viktor Chytka have guided their Orlen Jipocar Team Ford Raptor to seventh overall and fifth of the registered W2RC crews. Frenchman Mathieu Serradori is the leading two-wheel drive entrant in eighth with his Century CR6-T and the Challenger category-leading Eryk Goczal and Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Guy Botterill round off the top 10. Overdrive’s Guerlain Chicherit is 11th after suffering motion sickness in the dunes on stage six.

Last year’s W2RC runner-up Yazeed Al-Rajhi and his co-driver Timo Gottschalk led the event for three days in a Toyota Hilux but the Saudi’s dream of winning the Dakar for the first time ended with a high-speed crash after 51km of the sixth stage through the Empty Quarter.

The car ended up badly damaged after the crash and the uninjured crew were transported back to the bivouac in Shubaytah, although Al-Rajhi had earned 14 W2RC points during the first week. “After 51 kilometres, everything was okay on a very fast chott and we were at full speed when I hit something,” said the Saudi. “The car did a barrel roll and now it is damaged.”

Likewise, five-time winner Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and co-driver Mathieu Baumel saw their chance of winning ruined further into the same stage. The Qatari was on a charge in his Prodrive Hunter running under his Nasser Racing banner and looked set to take the lead after Al-Rajhi’s accident. But he broke the steering during the last 50km of the 48-hour stage six, lost over two and a half hours and slipped back to 16th overall and 11th of the W2RC entrants. He also amassed 14 W2RC points during the first week of the Dakar.

Al-Attiyah said: “It was not a good day. On the last 50 kilometres we broke the steering and we couldn’t do anything to repair. We waited for our assistance truck to come, we fixed it and then got to the finish. Everything is not finished, but now we’ll try to play for the World Championship. I will also try to help Seb (Loeb), to be behind him. At least he can win this Dakar. I will do my best for him to win because we are a team”.

Outside the top 10, Overdrive Racing’s Denis Krotov and Eugenio Amos hold 15th and 23rd, Cristian Baumgart guided his X Rally Team Hunter to 16th and 14-time event winner Stéphane Peterhansel was classified in 22nd in the third of the Team Audi Sport E-trons with co-driver Edouard Boulanger after hydraulic jack issues, a puncture and power steering failure on the first part of stage six. The Frenchman had the scant consolation of winning stage two to equal Ari Vatanen’s number of 50 Dakar stage wins on four wheels.

Stage three was a difficult one for the X-Raid Mini JCW Team after a solid start. Krzysztof Holowczyc took avoiding action to avoid a biker, clouted a stone, broke the suspension and was forced to wait for assistance, while Pau Navarro destroyed a wheel and the suspension on his Mini JCW Rally Plus after an accident and retired. Holowczyc made progress back through the field, despite back pain, until he was involved in a low-speed collision with Kris Meeke’s OT3 in the dunes on stage six.

Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Seth Quintero and Dennis Zenz stopped on the fourth stage with engine issues and were ruled out of challenging for the win after changing the engine block and incurring massive time penalties.

Neither Joan ‘Nani’ Roma nor his South African team-mate Gareth Woolridge are registered for the W2RC in a two-car team of M-Sport Ford Rangers and they have experienced mixed fortunes during the first week. Roma holds an excellent 13th overall but Woolridge was forced to replace broken suspension in the fourth stage and dropped down the rankings.

Young Eryk Goczal dominates Challenger race

Young Eryk Goczal won the T4 category at the Dakar Rally in 2023 and the Krakow driver is dominating the Challenger class after six stages in his Energylandia Rally Team Taurus T3M. He also lies ninth in the general classification.

Goczal and Spanish co-driver Oriol Mena won the Prologue and four of the six stages and have led the event from the start. The Pole heads into the second week with a comfortable 1hr 02min 18sec cushion over the American duo of Mitch Guthrie and Kellon Walch in a Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team Factory Team Taurus T3. Goczal also has 28 W2RC Challenger points to his name.

Speaking after completing the sixth stage, Goczal said: “That was the most difficult stage of my life. It was crazy. I will not remember the sleeping part of the marathon but the driving part, because we did eight hours which is the longest I’ve ever done. I’m going to give it to Oriol because everybody was lost with the navigation and I wasn’t sure where to go. In big canyons where it was difficult to climb, he was just sitting there pointing with his hand saying, “we have to go this way” different to everybody else…”

Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team driver Cristina Gutiérrez (Taurus) and former winner Francisco Lopez (Can-Am) are not registered for the W2RC but hold third and fourth overall at the rest day. American Austin Jones is registered for the championship and the defending T3 (Challenger) champion holds fifth in his Can-Am after a difficult opening week in the desert. He and co-driver Gustavo Gugelmin are 1hr 50min 12sec behind the leaders.

Goczal’s uncle Michal holds sixth with co-driver Szymon Gospodarczyk in the second of the Energylandia Taurus T3Ms, Lithuania’s Rokas Baciuška is seventh in a factory Can-Am after punctures and brake issues and Argentina’s Nicolas Cavigliasso (Taurus), Ricardo Porém (MMP) and local driver Saleh Al-Saif (OT3) round off the top 10.

Local driver Yasir Seaidan leads SSV category

Saudi Arabian driver Yasir Seaidan and his French navigator Michael Metge snatched the outright lead in the SSV category with the second quickest time on the sixth stage. The Can-Am Maverick duo head into the second week with a lead of 8min 08sec and 25 W2RC SSV points.

The lead swapped hands on five occasions during the course of the first week, with Xavier de Soultrait winning the Prologue and stages five and six in a Polaris, Rodrigo Varela leading after winning stage one, Spaniard Gerard Farrés snatching the advantage for three days after winning stage two and Jérôme de Sadeleer moving to the top of the standings after stage five before third-stage winner Seaidan took over at the front into Riyadh.

The South Racing Can-Am duo of Sara Price and Jeremy Gray hold second overall with De Soultrait and Martin Bonnet classified in third, although the former Yamaha motorbike rider is not registered for the W2RC in his Sébastien Loeb Racing-Bardahl Team Polaris.

Pre-event favourite João Ferreira (Can-Am) and Filipe Palmeiro won the fourth stage on their way to a similar position in the rankings and hold second in the W2RC SSV points’ standings (19), de Sadeleer is fifth and the FN Speed Team duo of Sebastian Guayasamin and Fernando Acosta are sixth.

Brazil’s Cristiano de Sousa Batista (Can-Am), Florent Vayssade (Polaris), early leader Farrés and French veteran Claude Fournier round off the top 10 in Riyadh.

Next week

Action resumes on the run west and then due north towards bivouacs in Al-Duwadimi and Hail on January 14th and 15th.

Competitors will then cross the An-Nafud desert and the northwestern regions of Saudi Arabia en route to the final three stages between Al-Ula and the finish in Yanbu on the Red Sea on January 19th.


2024 Dakar Rally  –rest day positions (unofficial):

1. Carlos Sainz (ESP)/Lucas Cruz (ESP) Audi RS Q E-tron E224hr 59min 32sec
2. Mattias Ekström (SWE)/Emil Bergkvist (SWE) Audi RS Q E-tron E225hr 19min 53sec
3. Sébastien Loeb (FRA)/Fabian Lurquin (BEL) BRX Prodrive Hunter25hr 29min 03sec*
4. Lucas Moraes (BRA)/Armand Monleón (ESP) Toyota GR DKR Hilux26hr 03min 32sec
5. Guillaume de Mevius (BEL)/Xavier Panseri (FRA) Toyota Hilux Overdrive26hr 09min 19sec
6. Giniel de Villiers (ZAF)/Dennis Murphy (ZAF) Toyota GR DKR Hilux26hr 24min 48sec*
7. Martin Prokop (CZE)/Viktor Chytka (CZE) Ford Raptor RS 26hr 34min 36sec
8. Mathieu Serradori (FRA)/Loic Minaudier (FRA) Century CR6-T26hr 51min 52sec
9. Eryk Goczal (POL)/Oriol Mena (ESP) Taurus T3 Max26hr 52min 02sec
10. Guy Botterill (ZAF)/Brett Cummings (ZAF) Toyota GR DKR Hilux26hr 54min 13sec*
11. Guerlain Chicherit (FRA)/Alex Winocq (FRA) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 26hr 58min 06sec
12. Benediktas Vanagas (LTU)/Kuldar Sikk (LTU) Toyota Hilux27hr 05min 17sec*
13. Joan ‘Nani’ Roma (ESP)/A;ex Haro (ESP) Ford Ranger 27hr 06min 39sec*
14. Christian Lavieille (FRA)/Valentin Sarreaud (FRA) MD Optimus27hr 27min 34sec
15. Denis Krotov (KGZ)/Konstantin Zhiltsov (ISR) Toyota Hilux Overdrive27hr 36min 28sec
16. Cristian Baumgart (BRA)/Alberto Andreotti (BRA) Prodrive Hunter27hr 38min 24sec
17. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Mathieu Baumel (FRA) Prodrive Hunter 27hr 40min 26sec
18. Mitch Guthrie (USA)/Kellon Walch (USA) Taurus T3 Max27hr 54min 20sec
19. Laia Sanz (ESP)/Maurizio Gerini (ITA) Astara CR6-T27hr 55min 37sec*
20. Cristina Gutiérrez (ESP)/Pablo Moreno Huete (ESP) Taurus T3 Max28hr 18min 36sec*

*denotes NOT registered for W2RC


Rally leaders

PrologueMattias Ekström (Audi)
SS1Guillaume de Mévius (Toyota)
SS2Carlos Sainz (Audi)
SS3-5Yazeed Al-Rajhi (Toyota)
SS6Carlos Sainz (Audi)


Stage winners

PrologueMattias Ekström (Audi)
SS1Guillaume de Mévius (Toyota)
SS2Stéphane Peterhansel (Audi)
SS3Lucas Moraes (Toyota)
SS4Sébastien Loeb (Hunter)


Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (Hunter)
SS6Sébastien Loeb (Hunter)


W2RC ‘Challenger’ group – rest day positions (unofficial):

1. Eryk Goczal (POL)/Oriol Mena (ESP) Taurus T3 Max26hr 52min 02sec
2. Mitch Guthrie (USA)/Kellon Walch (USA) Taurus T3 Max27hr 54min 20sec
3. Cristina Gutiérrez (ESP)/Pablo Moreno Huete (ESP) Taurus T3 Max28hr 18min 36sec*
4. Francisco Lopez (CHL)/Juan Pablo Latrach (CHL) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo28hr 18min 54sec*
5. Austin Jones (USA)/Gustavo Gugelmin (BRA) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo28hr 42min 14sec
6. Michal Goczal (POL)/Szymon Gospodarczyk (POL) Taurus T3 Max28hr 57min 00sec
7. Rokas Baciuška (LTU)/Oriol Vidal (ESP) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo 29hr 12min 15sec
8. Nicolas Cavigliasso (ARG)/Valentina Pertegarini (ARG) Taurus T3 Max29hr 33min 57sec
9. Ricardo Porém (PRT)/Augusto Sanz (PRT) Can-Am MMP T3 Rally-Raid30hr 59min 32sec
10. Saleh Al-Saif (SAU)/Nasser Al-Kuwari (QAT) G Rally Team OT331hr 27min 27sec*

*denotes NOT registered for W2RC


Rally leaders

PrologueEryk Goczal (Taurus T3 Max)
SS1-6Eryk Goczal (Taurus T3 Max)


Stage winners

PrologueEryk Goczal (Taurus T3 Max)
SS1Eryk Goczal (Taurus T3 Max)
SS2Eryk Goczal (Taurus T3 Max)
SS3Mitch Guthrie (Taurus T3 Max)
SS4Eryk Goczal (Taurus T3 Max)
SS5Francisco Lopez (Can-Am)
SS6Eryk Goczal (Taurus T3 Max)


W2RC ‘SSV’ group – rest day positions (unofficial):

1. Yasir Seaidan (SAU)/Adrien Metge (FRA) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo29hr 50min 16sec
2. Sara Price (USA)/Jeremy Gray (USA) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo29hr 58min 24sec
3. Xavier de Soultrait (FRA)/Martin Bonnet (FRA) Polaris RZR Pro R30hr 00min 56sec*
4. João Ferreira (PRT)/Filipe Palmeiro (PRT) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo30hr 12min 55sec
5. Jérôme de Sadeleer (CHE)/Michael Metge (FRA) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo30hr 15min 27sec*
6. Sebastian Guayasamin (ECU)/Fernando Acosta (ARG) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo31hr 22min 31sec
7. Cristiano Batista (BRA)/Fausto Moto (PRT) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo33hr 32min 38sec
8. Florent Vayssade (FRA)/Nicolas Rey (FRA) Polaris RZR Pro R33hr 42min 12sec*
9. Gerard Farrés (ESP)/Diego Ortega (ESP) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo34hr 25min 19sec
10. Claude Fournier (FRA)/Serge Gounon (FRA) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo35hr 08min 21sec

*denotes NOT registered for W2RC


Rally leaders

PrologueXavier de Soultrait (Polaris)
SS1Rodrigo Varela (Can-Am)
SS2-4Gerard Farrés (Can-Am)
SS5Jérôme de Sadeleer (Can-Am)
SS6Yasir Seaidan (Can-Am)


Stage winners

PrologueXavier de Soultrait (Polaris)
SS1Rodrigo Varela (Can-Am)
SS2Gerard Farrés (Can-Am)
SS3Yasir Seaidan (Can-Am)
SS4João Ferreira (Can-Am)
SS5Xavier de Soultrait (Polaris)
SS6Xavier de Soultrait (Polaris)