It was all about new heroes on Wednesday’s longest Dakar Rally ‘22 stage. Day 4 was a gruelling 465 kilometre race between Al Qaysumah and Riyadh. Overall leaders, Nasser Al Attiyah and Matthieu Baumel’s Gazoo Hilux won after first car home, Saudi local hero Yazeed Al Rajhi and Michael Orr’s Hilux was penalised for speeding. Honda duo Juan Barreda and Pablo Quintanilla took bike honours. But the day will be remembered for rookie former MotoGP star Danillo Petrucci, and SA drivers Henk Lategan and Chris Visser’s efforts.
Wednesday started well for Toyota Gazoo Hilux duo Lategan and Brett Cummings. They bided their time early on, before driving off to a 2 minute lead over Al Attiyah and Al Rajhi’s similar machines. Alas, Lategan and Cummings' Hilux picked up a hub problem and they were forced to stop and wait for assistance. Stéphane Peterhansel and Edouard Boulanger once again joined the Toyota duo in an agonising wait. Their Audi suffered another suspension failure too.
That left Carlos Sainz and Lucas Cruz’ petrol-electric Audi RS Q e-Tron quattro fending off Al Rajhi and Al Attiyah. Nasser appeared to lose a little time to try help his stricken teammate Lategan. Behind them, Sebastien Loeb and Fabian Lurquin’s BRX Hunter held a watching brief ahead of Giniel de Villiers and Dennis Murphy’s Hilux, Mini duo, Yasir Seaidan and Alexey Kuzmich, and Jakub Przygonski and Timo Gottschalk, and French crew Mathieu Serradori and Loic Minaudier’s SA-built Century CR6.
A concertina effect up front saw Al Attiyah close down on Al Rajhi, as both reeled Sainz in for an epic finish. The Toyotas passed the Audi with 50 km to race as Al Rajhi held Al Attiyah’s factory Gazoo machine off by just 14 seconds. Only for Al Rajhi to be demoted back to fourth. So, Al Attiyah took his 44th Dakar day win from Loeb, who powered ahead of Sainz and Al Rajhi, Seaidan de Villiers, Przygonski and Serradori. Overall, Al Attiyah opened his advantage to 38 minutes over Loeb, Al Rajhi and de Villiers two seconds behind.
From a South African car point of view, besides Lategan’s efforts, the drive of the day had to be Chris Visser and Rodney Burke’s run in their Century CR6. Multiple SA champion and 4x4 expert Visser was drafted in to the rear-wheel drive buggy to replace Century boss Mark Corbett at the 12th hour. Having raced the Dakar in a bakkie in the South American years, Visser has been consistently inside the top 20 all week. But he and Burke were well within to top ten earlier in Wednesday's stage, before dropping back to 15th.
At the time of writing, South African car crews Brian Baragwanath and Leonard Cremer’s Century sat 19th and Shameer Variawa and Danie Stassen’s Gazoo Hilux 22nd. Taye Perry reading notes for Cyril Despres’ Peugeot 3008 was 29th and Ryan Bland and Daniel Schroder’s WCT Red-Lined VK50 39th. It was a better day for Ernest Roberts and Henry Kohne, who were in 34th, and Schalk Burger and Henk Janse van Vuuren 45th. Both rewarded the Century team’s efforts to keep the cars going after they hit trouble earlier in the week.
Dakar heroes are not often born. They are made. And if there ever was a case for a new Dakar hero being made, that was today in the bikes. Italian MotoGP refugee Danilo Petrucci put on a show that not many a MotoGP nor Dakar fan will ever forget. Former MotoGP winner Petrux had thought his Dakar was over on Monday when he lost his cell phone in the stage and could not contact his team after hitting trouble.
Still, the Italian sorted the issue and took a huge penalty and returned on Tuesday. He must have had his Jungle Oats Wednesday, as he shot into a stunning lead, which he held on to for 150 km on his KTM. He eventually lost the lead to Juan Barreda Bort, who took his second stage of the race from Honda teammate Pablo Quintanilla, with Petrucci a splendid third. Sherco teammates Paulo Goncalves and Lorenzo Santolino were fourth and fifth from Luciano Benavides’ Husqvarna and overall leader Sam Sunderland’s Gas Gas.
Botswana's Ross Branch was the best of Southern African bikers in 15th for Yamaha, with SA rookie Bradley Cox’s KTM once again impressing in 18th, with Aaron Mare provisionally 23rd. Behind them, Charan Moore was 47th, John Kelly 62nd, Stuart Gregory 74th, Terblanche 91st, Werner Kennedy 104th and Paulo Oliveira 120th. Overall on two wheels, Sam Sunderland still leads KTM’s Mattias Walkner and Adrien Beveren’s Yamaha, with Branch 11th, Mare 12th, Cox 23rd and Moore 40th.
Marek Goczal and Lukasz Lakaswiek led Rodrigo de Oliveira and Maykal Justo, and Austin Jones and Gustavo Gugelmin in the Side by Sides. Seth Quinterio and Denis Zenz Red Bull led overall leaders, Francisco Contardo and Pablo Vinagre and Sebastian Eriksson and Wouter Rosegaar’s Can Ams in the UTVs. Russian Aleksandr Maksimov caused another quad surprise when he put one over Manuel Andujar and overall leaders Pablo Copetti and Alexandre Giroud. And Kamaz duo Nikolaievv and Shabilov let van Kasteren’s Iveco in the trucks.
Thursday’s 365 km loop around Riyaad starts on rocky tracks before more dunes later in the day.