Saturday saw the end of the year’s most brutal and challenging motorsports adventure – the Dakar Rally. It took two weeks and spanned almost 5,000 miles across the wild and alien desert climates of Peru, Argentina, and Chile. It involved four types of vehicles: Cars, motorcycles, quads, and trucks. If you’re picturing traditional race cars in the “Cars” category, or trophy trucks in the “Trucks” bracket, check out our Dakar Primer and be disillusioned.
They raced for time and fought for survival. Here’s how this year’s race went down:
In the Cars category, defending champion Frenchman Stephane Peterhansel returned in his Mini All4 X-Raid rally car, which kindof looks like a Mini without the Mini part. Nasser Al-Attiyah and Carlos Sainz, both former winners, showed up on the Red Bull team, each with a RWD, Corvette-powered Demon Jefferies buggy. Giniel de Villiers, who won in 2009, arrived in a Toyota Hilux truck, and American NASCAR and Baja racer Robby Gordon once again showed up with his RWD Hummer H3.
Gordon showed promise throughout the race, taking podiums for several of the stages, but fell out of contention when he flipped the H3 over a dune and landed on his roof. It cost him several hours, and though he fought throughout the rest of the race, it was for display purposes only, and ended up finishing 14th.
Al-Attiyah and Sainz both showed promise for the podium, though Al-Attiyah claimed early that it was only a development year for the new buggy platforms, but were both forced to retire long before the end of the race, plagued by engine failures. Development year, indeed.
This left the finish wide open for Stephane Peterhansel, who took an unsurprising victory. Geniel De Villiers pushed the Hilux to second, an uncommon win for Toyota, and Russian pilot Lonid Novitsky took third, also driving an X-Raid Mini.
The bikes category was a close battle between four-time Dakar champion Cyril Despres, riding for KTM, Yamaha rider Olivier Pain (that’s “Puhhn,” as in the French word for “bread,” not the sensation of discomfort), and KTM’s Francisco “Chaleco” Lopez, a Chilean local favorite, among others. Absent due to injury recovery was Despres’ long time Spanish rival Marc Coma, replaced by American hopeful Kurt Caselli.
Despres hung back early to avoid shouldering the difficult task of navigating, as the bikes are generally released even before the cars. But no one doubted his steady dominance of the rally until he had gearbox issues in stage 9. After changing the engine himself, the rules requiring that no mechanical assistance be accepted during a stage, and incurring a 15 minute penalty, Despres charged back to the front and handily defeating KTM teammates Ruben Faria and Chaleco for first place. American Caselli showed promise, winning two stages, but finished a disappointing 31st overall with navigation issues.
In the Quads category, last year’s winner Alejandra Patronelli chose not to compete this year, passing his mantle to his brother Marcos, who won in 2010. He rode for Yamaha with other South Americans Tomas Maffei and Ignacio Casale and the awesomely-named Polish rider Rafal Sonik, while newcomer Sebastian Husseini carried the Honda flag.
Predictably, Patronelli took an early lead, with the rookie Husseini nipping at his heels for several stages, but Husseini faced mechanical failures in stage 5, pulling him out of contention. In an incredible performance, Ptronelli beat second place finisher Casale by an hour and fifty minutes, and Sonik by three hours and sixteen minutes. A good year for Yamaha.
The trucks, however, saw some major shake-ups this year. Team Iveco returned, fresh from unseating in 2012 the mighty Kamaz team from a Dakar dynasty. Driving for Iveco was last year’s winner Gerard de Rooy, 2007 winner Hans Stacey, and Miki Biasion. The Red Bull-sponsored Kamaz team included Eduard Nikolaev, Ayray Mardeev, and Andrey Karginov, all of Russia.
De Rooy took an early lead over the forward control Kamaz trucks, but he lost an hour after turbo failure, steering problems, and a puncture all hit him during stage 9. Teammate Stacey rolled his truck, and Biasion fell out of contention in stage four. This left the podium wide open for the Red Bull trucks of Nikolaev, Mardeev, and Karginov, a 1-2-3 finish for Kamaz.
This year’s race was a perfect example of the Dakar being equal parts skill, luck, and engineering. It doesn’t just depend on the prowess and experience of the driver, as noobies like Kurt Caselli and Sebastian Husseini proved. And it takes some durable engineering, as Cyril Despres’ gearbox would tell you. But it also takes a measure of luck, of being in the right place at the right time. Sometimes you flip your Hummer on a steep dune. Sometimes, like rider David Casteau, you hit a cow with your motorcycle and dislocate your shoulder. Sometimes you arrive before the floods, as Stephane Peterhansel did, crossing a dry riverbed before it became a very wet one.
At the Dakar, anything can happen. So be ready for all of it.
Images Courtesy Dakar.com