Fantastic four fight for the Tuareg of the Dakar

The big favorites for the Dakar know more for being old and hardened in a thousand battles than for devils.

Thomas Osborne
Thomas Osborne
30 December 2022 Friday 23:35
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Fantastic four fight for the Tuareg of the Dakar

The big favorites for the Dakar know more for being old and hardened in a thousand battles than for devils. The years go by and the scenarios change, but the benchmarks of the toughest rally are still them, the incombustible poker of masters at the wheel made up of Carlos Sainz, at 60, Stéphane Peterhansel (57), Sébastien Loeb (48) and Nasser Al Attiyah (52), the reigning champion. So it could be said without fear of being wrong that the four will once again be in this 45th Dakar, the fourth in Saudi territory that starts today, the exclusive candidates to win the Tuareg statuette.

The dominance of the fantastic four is overwhelming, and it is expected to remain so. The veteran quartet won 8 of the 13 stages in the previous edition, and they have captured – with the exception of Loeb – 12 of the last 14 editions since the rally left Africa. That is to say that, except for the triumphs of Giniel de Villiers (2009) and Nani Roma (2014) –absent for the first time in 27 years, being excluded by the Bahrain Raid Xtreme–, the Tuareg is a matter of Peterhansel (5), Al Attiyah (4) and Sainz (3).

For this edition, which, as the refrain says every year, "will be tougher", favoritism falls on Al Attiyah, due to his absolutist dominance: in 2022 he has been the winner of the Dakar for the fourth time, champion of the world rally-raids and from the extreme e

“We have a car to fight for the race. We are clearly not favourites; the favorite is last year's winner”, says Carlos Sainz without citing his close Qatari rival. The man from Madrid, who at 60 is facing his 16th Dakar in search of his fourth Tuareg, trusts once again in the hybrid technology of the Audi RS Q-tron E2. The German all-terrain allowed them to win three stages in its debut and this year, improved in reliability, it will once again be, despite the weight restrictions (Sainz complains that they have 100 kg more), one of the strongest vehicles to win stages, led by Sainz, Mattias Ekström and the ineffable Peterhansel.

Monsieur Dakar, in his 24th participation in a car, is chasing his ninth statuette on four wheels (it would be the 15th in total) after the fiasco of 2022 (it was 59th) when he broke the rear axle of his Audi in the middle of the first stage, which led him to run out of options.

Although none of the last three winners admit it, the most feared rival is the only one who has not won, Sébastien Loeb, who will finally seek his first Dakar in his seventh participation. “Séb is a great driver, he is having a hard time, but he is close to winning the Dakar. It is the law of life: young people have to win and take away those who are winning, ”says Sainz, who uses the times set by the Frenchman as a reference, for a reason nine times world rally champion.

In the motorcycle category, once again the battle will be between the Austrian machines of KTM (and its Gas Gas substitute) and the Japanese of Honda, or, what is the same, Red Bull against Monster. Defend Tuareg Sam Sunderland (Gas Gas), with the support of the young backpacker Daniel Sanders.

The orange motorcycle team seeks to regain the throne after three years trusting again in the trio Matthias Walkner, Toby Price and Kevin Benavides, while the official HRC structure includes Ricky Brabec (2020 champion), José Ignacio Cornejo, Pablo Quintanilla and the recently incorporated Adrien van Beveren, exYamaha, who replaces Joan Barreda after nine seasons with the team.

The man from Castellón (39), on his 13th Dakar, wants to give himself one last chance with the support of Honda and Monster. Along with Barreda, 16 other drivers want to succeed Marc Coma, the last Spanish winner (2015). One of the best options, in addition to the man from Castellón, is Lorenzo Santolino (Sherco), from Salamanca, who is aiming for the top 3 after being 11th last year.