The Dakar Rally is an annual rally-racing competition once staged from Paris to Dakar. Due to security concerns in Mauritania the event was moved to South America in 2009, and has been held in Saudi Arabia since 2020.
This year’s rally saw competitions in different categories from 1st-14th January. Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah won in the car category for the fourth time, whilst British motorcycle rider, Sam Sunderland, took his second title.
Al-Attiyah, who drives for Toyota, was in pole position since 1st Jan. The Qatari driver won two of the 12 stages, both in the first week, and showed remarkable consistency throughout the event while his rivals fell by the wayside with navigational errors or mechanical problems.
The four-time champion finished 27 minutes and 46 seconds ahead of second-place French driver, Sebastian Loeb. Third place went to Saudi driver, Yazeed Al Rajhi, with the Overdrive Toyota team.
The 51-year-old has previously won the Dakar rally in 2011, 2015 and 2019 with Volkswagen, Mini, and Toyota, respectively.
With his fourth win this year, Al-Attiyah is the second most successful driver in the car category, tied with Finland’s Ari Vatanen; surpassed only by last year’s champion, Stéphane Peterhansel, who has won 6 trophies.
“We had finished second every time since we came to Saudi Arabia two years ago, now we’re really happy to achieve our goal”, Al-Attiyah said.
“We opened up a gap on the first day and have since managed our lead. We are really happy, and I reckon we’ll start thinking of the next Dakar in a week or ten days.”
The Gasgas rider, Sam Sunderland, took his second title since 2017 in the bike category, finishing 3 minutes and 27 seconds ahead of Chilean rider, Pablo Quintanilla, on a Honda and Austrian Matthias Walkner, for KTM.
“I honestly can’t be happier. This last stage was so difficult and so much stress”, said Sunderland.
“A lot of navigation, a lot of tricky notes, a few times a bit confusing and not sure if I was going the right way. Honestly, my head can explode. What a feeling.”
“The last 10 minutes, I was not sure whether I’d won and now they’ve told me and, wow, a dream come true.”
The Dakar Rally began in 1978 as a race from Paris across the Sahara to the Senegalese capital, but switched to South America in 2009 for security reasons.
One of motorsport’s most dangerous and grueling events, the rally moved to Saudi Arabia in 2020 and is now in its 44th edition.