As the 39th edition finishes, we pick out the best and worst from this year’s event.
On Saturday, the 39th edition of the Dakar Rally reached its climax in Rio Cuarto, Argentina, with Stéphane Peterhansel heading the field in the car class by just over five minutes and Sam Sunderland becoming the first British winner in the motorbike class.
After two weeks of action, we look back at some of the highs and lows of the 12 stages of this year’s event.
Most dramatic stage finish
Nasser Al-Attiyah, whose Dakar sadly ended prematurely, got off to a flying start by winning the opening stage of the event as he bid for a third overall victory. But it proved an explosive finish as an oil leak combined with intense heat caused a small fire to break out on the front left wheel case of his Toyota Hilux.
Ever year there are all manner of retirees from the Dakar but none more dramatically than Carlos Sainz, who had been poised to take the lead but he rolled into a ravine at speed and in dramatic fashion, narrowly avoiding a couple of spectators with the whole drama caught on film. He understandably wasn’t able to continue after that day.
In the space of just 24 hours, the Dakar lost three of its most celebrated entrants as Al-Attiyah, Sainz and motorcyclist Toby Price were all forced to retire. Price’s departure was the most physically damaging, breaking his femur in four places in a crash caused when he hit a rock.
Two stages were called off as a result of the weather: stages six and nine. But the thunderstorms on the route led to a massive landslide, which caused the immediate cancellation of the stage from Salta to Chilecito with just four days left of the rally.
Everything was on the line for Peterhansel on Stage 10 with another Dakar victory firmly in his sights. Early on the stage though he collided with biker Simon Marcic, with both lost and away from the official route. The 12-time winner stayed with the Slovenian rider, who had a broken leg, for around 15 minutes until medical assistance arrived. The Peugeot driver finished nearly seven minutes behind Sébastien Loeb but event organisers gave him the time back after his act of sportsmanship.
As usual, there were no shortage of spectators along the route of the Dakar whatever the weather conditions. But arguably the most notable crowds were those that thronged to the stage four finish in Tupiza, the streets awash with Bolivian flags as far as the eye could see.
Best show of patience
Motorbike rider Sam Sunderland must have thought his time would never come. He first entered the Dakar in 2012 but was undone by mechanical failure on stage two. He was forced to retire from his other two Dakars with another mechanical and a crash, while crashes twice denied him from even taking to the start line. On Saturday, he finally finished the event…and in first place.
Most popular win
The award has to be shared by Pablo Copetti and Walter Nosiglia in front of their home crowds respectively. Copetti proved triumphant on his quad in Argentina on stage two while the Bolivian flag waving went wild as Nosiglia entered Tupiza at the end of stage four in front of the rest of the field.
Each stage may have been hundreds and hundreds of kilometres long, and yet just a smattering of minutes – sometimes seconds – separated Loeb, the former master of the World Rally Championship, and Peterhansel, the most dominant competitor in Dakar history. The only shame was that the duel had to end.
A special mention must go out to Kees Koolen. There was to be no overall glory in the quad class but the Dutchman deserves kudos for his victory on stage five having now competed at the Dakar in all four categories of vehicle.
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