The 45th edition of the Dakar has come to an end in Dammam after 14 stages that saw dramatic turnarounds in every category. Nasser Al Attiyah's victorious campaign did not come as a surprise, but his first successful title defence earned him the fifth triumph of his career and the distinction of winning by the widest margin seen in the car race in 20 years. Second at 1 h 20, Sébastien Loeb bent the knee to the Qatari, but he also added his name to the Dakar record books with a string of six consecutive stage wins (seven in total).
Scoring 5/20 is usually very bad news, but in the case of Nasser Al Attiyah, who claimed his fifth Bedouin trophy in his twentieth Dakar start (including the 2008 edition, as the bivouac is wont to do), his track record shows that he is one of the most keen-sighted and visionary competitors in the world of rally raids. The lean, mean winning machine really got going in 2011, in a Volkswagen Touareg with Timo Gottschalk in the right seat. He has since given the lie to his reputation as a car-smasher, and his partnership with the navigator Mathieu Baumel since 2015 has yielded another four victories: in 2015 in a Mini and in 2019, 2022 and 2023 behind the wheel of a Toyota Hilux. The duo produced a masterpiece on the sands of Saudi Arabia, taking the lead without haste on the evening of stage 3 before going on to reach the rest day 1 h 20 ahead of the rest after the harsh terrain dashed the hopes of all the challengers. Prodrive's Hunters were knocked out of contention by a flurry of punctures in stage 2, while the Audis of Stéphane Peterhansel and Carlos Sainz lost all hope of success at the foot of a dune in stage 6. The sweet taste of victory will have to wait for the electric RS Q e-tron cars, of which only one unit, with Mattias Ekström at the wheel, made it to the finish a fortnight after winning the prologue around the Sea Camp.
Sébastien Loeb, the only one of Toyota's rivals to avoid certain doom, embarked on an ultimately futile yet gutsy pursuit ahead of the Empty Quarter and all the way to the finish in Dammam. On his heroic ride through the desert, the nine-time WRC world champion racked up one stage win after another, taming the dunes like never before and producing an impeccable performance that made him go down in history with a streak of six stage wins in a row, beating Ari Vatanen's five in 1989. Nasser, jumping to warp speed with aplomb, refused to engage on these terms and cruised to Dammam, where his lead over Loeb, also his runner-up last year, was not a minute less than 1 h 20. Al Attiyah's fifth success also puts into perspective the talent of the great Finnish master, who won the Dakar "only" four times, but in just five starts. Looking ahead, his 2023 harvest also brings the Qatari closer to Vatanen's record of 50 stage wins, with 47 so far, as well as Stéphane Peterhansel's eight car titles. The Toyota clan has a lot of reasons to celebrate, as the bottom step of the podium went to a newcomer to both the team and the Dakar. The Brazilian Lucas Moraes is the first rookie to crack the top 3 of the car race since Juha Kankkunen won in 1988. Another two Hilux drivers round out the top 5: the ever-consistent Giniel de Villiers, in his fifteenth finish in this select club, and fellow South African Henk Lategan, who will try to repeat his mentor's exploit with a win in the future. Faced with this display of shock and awe, Martin Prokop's sixth place is much more than a consolation prize, while Wei Han achieved the highest finish ever for a Chinese driver in eighth place. Sebastián Halpern, ninth in Team X-raid's brand-new T1+, will tap his optimism to interpret this as a sign to keep going, as will Guerlain Chicherit, whose haul of two stage wins —including the finale—, nine top 5 finishes and place in the top 10 overall proved that he can go toe to toe with the heavy hitters.
Source A.S.O. / Dakar Rally