Al-Attiyah wins fourth Dakar Rally crown, Sunderland claims bike title

DOHA, QATAR - MARCH 09: Nasser Al-Attiyah ( 3x Dakar Rally Winner) looks on in box during the MotoGP of Qatar - Qualifying at Losail Circuit on March 09, 2019 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images)

Qatari driver Nasser al-Attiyah won the Dakar Rally for a fourth time after the gruelling two-week trek through the Saudi Arabian desert came to a climax on Friday.

Al-Attiyah, who previously won in 2011, 2015 and 2019, took the overall honours by almost half an hour from France’s nine-time world rally champion Sebastien Loeb.

FILE PHOTO: Qatari driver Nasser Al-Attiyah. /Getty Images)

British motorbike rider Sam Sunderland claimed his second Dakar Rally crown earlier in the day.

The final stage was marred by tragedy as 20-year-old French mechanic Quentin Lavallee was killed in a car accident.

Al-Attiyah – also a bronze medallist in skeet shooting at the 2012 London Olympics – led from start to finish to secure his first win in Saudi Arabia after two runners-up spots.

“It was an incredible Dakar for us,” said the 51-year-old Toyota driver.

“We hadn’t won since 2019. There were three solid teams capable of winning. Matthieu (Baumel his French co-driver) and I, the team, we all did a good job to win.

“We had finished second every time since we came to Saudi Arabia two years ago, now we’re really happy to achieve our goal.

“The whole race went without a hitch.”

The final stage of the car race was won by South Africa’s Henk Lategan with the overall Dakar recordholder Stephane Peterhansel second in his electric hybrid Audi.

The German manufacturer had said prior to the race that it had no aspirations of winning the overall title in what was its first entry with a hybrid model but it did secure several stage wins.

Sunderland, who in 2017 became the first British champion in either the car or bike category, finished 3 minutes and 27 seconds ahead of Pablo Quintanilla of Chile and Matthias Walkner of Austria to take the chequered flag in Jeddah.

Sunderland, 32, dominated the first week but had to battle for the overall lead over the final days and surrendered it several times before finally coming out on top.

He said it had not been all smooth sailing on the final stage which he entered with a healthy lead.

“I honestly can’t be happier,” said Sunderland.

“This last stage was so difficult and so much stress… A lot of navigation, a lot of tricky notes, a few times a bit confusing and not sure I was going the right way.

“Phew. Honestly, my head can explode. The last ten minutes, I was not sure whether I’d won, now they’ve told me and, wow, dream come true.

“I had a pretty rough season, but when you win the Dakar, it’s all worth it. So nice.”

For Quintanilla it was handsome reward having left Husqvarna to replace 2021 champion Kevin Benavides at Honda.

The 35-year-old said it had been “the most stressful” Dakar for him yet, though, his spirits had been boosted throughout by his compatriots writing to him.

“I’m over the moon with this result,” he said.

“It was a really, really tough race. I did my best. This is a good result for me as part of a different team.

“We fought hard from day one. It was physically and mentally exhausting. But I’m really pleased with my performance in the race.”

Walkner, who was champion in 2018, was ecstatic with his final placing.

“If you’d said to me before the rally I could finish in the top three, I would have said, ‘where do I have to sign?’,” said the 35-year-old.

“I’m going to enjoy this podium spot, which almost feels like a victory.”