The gateway to the Empty Quarter provides the backdrop to the third stage of the Dakar, riders and crews faced a 403-km special at approximately 1,000 metres above sea level, with altitude as an added effect and the ever-present heat of the Wajid Plateau certainly proving that the Saudi Arabia environment was not making going any easier for those taking part.

The vast sand dunes offered a winding stretch view for the competitors with the vast plateaux often stretching out to the horizon with the views of the distant mountains can, the added desert wind transforming the dunes hid the steep sloops and rocky steps that caught out a number of co

mpetitors. As it blew continuously over the desert, it also removed any traces that may have pointed to the existence of tracks, sowing the seeds of doubt in the minds of many navigators, including the co-pilot of Carlos Sainz, who went round in circles a little too much on the Wadi to Wadi loop.

Dakar 2021, Stage 3 Wadi Ad-Dawasir  > Wadi Ad-Dawasir,  Image Supplied by ASO

QUADS

Pablo Copetti took an early lead on the third stage of the Dakar, the Americano-Argentinean crossed the line ahead of Giovanni Enrico completing the second leg of the stage with a lead just over a minute, this would have been more had it not been for a reduced time penalty of 00:01.00 that closed the gap between them to just three seconds.

Alexandre Giroud became the stage leader after 43km, the Frenchman who had won the opening stage was looking to consolidate his position at the top of the general standings, but was not counting on the consistency of Giovanni Enrico, Nicolas Cavigliasso and the pace of Pablo Copetti all of which passed the Frenchman’s benchmark time to drop the Quad bike leader to forth by the end of the stage.

Having had to abandon in each of his previous three Dakar Rally’s Giovanni Enrico was being consistent in his approach to each stage, difficulties experienced for Alexandre Giroud allowed the Chilean to take the overall lead on his privately entered Yamaha Raptor 700. For the moment at least the Enrico can consolidate his leadership of the standings, on completion of the third stage on which he once again finished in second position.

Giovanni Enrico, Enrico Racing Team:The stage was like yesterday. It was similar terrain, and the dunes were very fun. There were some dangerous places because the wind had hit a lot of the dunes so the slopes on the other sides of the dunes were very steep and dangerous. I had to be careful with that. But it was a good stage, very fun, and we’re ready for tomorrow, another one”.

With Pablo Copetti receiving dropping back to fifth it would be 2019 champion Nicolas Cavigliasso who would became the star of the third stage taking charge at 183km, the Argentinian rider for Drag’on Rally Team moved into the top of the timings with only Giovanni Enrico to challenge him, Cavigliasso was able to pull out a lead of 58 second that would be enough to secure him his first stage win of the rally and move him to third in the general standings.

Nicolas Cavigliasso, Drag’on Rally Team: “Today was a good day for me. I started third and finished first. I am waiting for more riders to arrive, but maybe I’ve won the stage. At CP1 I had a problem with the muffler and it broke. On the last fifteen kilometres I had to slow down because I didn’t want to break the muffler more, but I’m so happy with today’s stage”.

Juan Tobias Carrizo, Yamaha M.E.D Racing Team, Images Supplied by ASO, Photographer Julien Delfosse

MOTO

Following the difficulties of faced on the opening stage and the impressive recovery made during stage two Ricky Brabec had it all to do, opening the way on any stage is difficult but coming from behind is starting to become a habit for the current Dakar champion and his teammate Joan Barreda Bort. At the opening checkpoint it appeared that the third stage around Wadi Ad-Dawasir would prove to be equally as difficult with both Monster Energy Honda Team 2021 teammates losing ground once more.

In contrast Kevin Benavides who finished stage 1 in second and then suffered issues to finish 24th on stage 2, was now the only Monster Energy Honda Team 2021 taking the fight to the Red Bull KTM Factory Team. An impressive first stage point saw the Argentinian gain the upper hand reaching the checkpoint a full 2 minutes ahead of Toby Price.

Kevin Benavides, Monster Energy Honda Team 2021: “Today was a nice day. I started at the back, but I kept focused all day and pushed a lot. I think I did a good job. I don’t know the results yet, but I feel good, so that was okay for me. This Dakar is really different than before. Now we are some days at the back, some days at the front. Maybe tomorrow I’ll have to open or something, but, for sure, this Dakar is like a game of strategy. I feel so good with the bike and strong, so I’m just calm. My strategy is to take it day by day”.

Matthias Walkner who had struggled on the opening stage was now closing in on the second Red Bull KTM Factory Team at 00:01.21 behind Benavides the race for the stage win was fast becoming a three-way fight. At the 183km checkpoint Kevin Benavides lead over the two charging KTM had been reduced to just over thirty-three minutes, Toby price had been riding relentlessly to close in on the leader with Walkner maintaining a steady two-minute gap behind.

It would be a day to forget for Ricky Barbec, Joan Berreda Bort and Pablo Quintanilla further issues in the rocky early stages set them all back and dropped them out of the top 20 for the day with the last year’s top two now down in 12th and 13th overall. In contrast Skyler Howes was running in forth for the stage and enjoying himself.

Skyler Howes, BAS Dakar KTM Racing Team: “Another fun day in the desert. I keep saying it, but I’m just having a lot of fun on the motorcycle. Today the dunes flowed really well and I felt comfortable there. Then we got out into the open desert on the really fast sandy tracks and I felt right at home. I told myself if I was feeling good, then I’d let it ride. I hope I’ll get a good result today, but either way, I had a ton of fun. I caught up with Chucky, Luciano and Xavier and we all had this huge battle, like a four or five way battle the whole way for the last hundred and fifty kilometres. It was a lot of fun, it really was and I’m just having a blast here in Saudi Arabia. You know what? I expect a lot out of myself. I hold myself to a high standard, but at the end of the day, I’m a privateer out here and I paid my own way to get here, so I’m just doing the best I can and having fun every day. At the end of the stage, whatever result I get, I’m usually happy with it, because I’m just on my dirt-bike”.

Incredibly the young American would find himself leading the Bike category for the Dakar on his BAS Dakar KTM Racing Team, ahead of another outsider Xavier De Soultrait who finished sixth with his new team HT Rally Raid Husqvarna Racing.

Xavier de Soultrait, HT Rally Raid Husqvarna Racing: “Again, it was a good day. We are quite good friends now, all the top riders, and I rode with some of them. We enjoyed it a lot because this year the Dakar is very nice to ride. The tracks are not dangerous. Sometimes it’s slow, sometimes it’s fast. It’s not boring at all and we can enjoy riding our bikes at the maximum. Again, it was a lot of work this year, because I needed to find a solution to ride again and I am very happy to have this result with this new Husqvarna”.

At 292km Toby Price finally moved into the lead of the stage and due to a 00:02.00-time penalty for Kevin Benavides, it would be Price’s 13th Dakar stage win and move the 2016 and 2019 winner into third overall just under two minutes behind Skyler Howes.  

Toby Price, Red Bull KTM Factory Team: “So far, it’s been up and down. It’s quite frustrating to be in front one day and then at the back the next. The difficulty of the navigation means it’s hard to open the road. I’m going to have to do it tomorrow, but I hope there’ll be a bit of respite and that it will be a day that’s less complicated on the navigational front. The result doesn’t mean much, because there are ups and downs. But anyway, it’s been a good day for me. The bike’s working well, I didn’t fall and I didn’t have any fuel problems like yesterday. Every day is going to count right up until the last one, but so far there have been no major problems”.

Kevin Benavides, Monster Energy Honda Team 2021, Images Supplied by ASO, Photographer Eric Vargiolu

CAR

Stephane Peterhansel, Carlos Sainz, Nasser Al-Attiyah and Sebastian Loeb all headed into the Wadi Ad-Dawasir knowing all to well that the 403 Km that awaits them is going to be more challenging than any they faced before, with multiple sand dunes and technical portions of the route requiring navigation the added combined with fast sections and rocky terrain is sure to have added to the concerns of some having already seen this stage cause multiple problems for others.

First to head out on to the third stage would be Nasser Al-Attiyah in the Toyota Gazoo Racing setting the early pace and paving the way for Peterhansel whom he took the stage 2 victory off at the last moment. Jakub Przygonski will also be heading out into the stage with the Orlen Team/Overdrive Toyota hoping to further upset the status quo, his performance on the opening stages have been both consistent and steady putting him 5th overall and just under a minute of the leading X-Raid Mini JCW Team.

The early running put Yazeed Al-Rajhi in the Overdrive Toyota into provisional lead by 22 seconds over Mathieu Serradori in the SRT Racing Century CR6 much to the delight of his Saudi supporters, Nasser Al-Attiyah held a narrow advantage over Carlos Sainz with Brian Baragwanath in the Century Racing CR6 just behind, all five drivers separated by less than a minute apart.

Toyota Gazoo Racing certainly has reason to be happy with both Henk Lategan and Giniel De Villers both pushing hard in the early running over the first kilometres. Lategan moved ahead of Yazeed Al-Rajhi by a clear minute and now leads the special stage overall, while Giniel De Villers now trails his teammate by 1 minute 28 with Mathieu Serradori bearing down on the Toyota trio.

Mathieu Serradori, SRT Racing Century: ““It was a complicated special and there were plenty of pitfalls to avoid. That was a day for my co-pilot Fabian, he did a crazily good job. We drove at a fast pace all day. We got stuck in the sand once and lost six minutes, but what’s six minutes when you can see that almost everyone else got lost behind us. At the neutralised zone, we were in fourth. I think we’ve driven well today, and our plan is progressing. The dunes were huge and broken up on the other side, so we gave ourselves a fright several times”.

Issues once again struck Carlos Sainz after 156 Km the X-Raid Mini JCW Team driver found himself of course by over 2 Km, he was then joined by Yazeed Al-Rajhi both searching for the right way to go with Al-Rajhi forced to stop racing just to get his bearing back. While all this played out Stephane Peterhansel and Sebastian Loeb both pulled ahead making no mistakes, similarly Nasser Al-Attiyah had also avoided the navigation errors but as a result of taking it easy now found himself down in eighth after 183 Km.  

The resulting navigation book confusion looking for a way point left Sainz in a less than flamboyant mood with his co-pilot Lucas Cruz, his difficulties had dropped him more than 32 minutes behind Nasser Al-Attiyah who after all the competitors had passed the mid-way point of the stage now found himself in the lead. South African Henk Lategan was now in second and a determined Stephane Peterhansel up to third less than 3 seconds behind the leader.

Sebastian Loeb suffered again during the stage with three separate punctures during the day, so to finish 5th at the end made sure that the multiple World Rally Champion was still in the hunt for that illusive 15th stage win or even an overall podium finish.

Sebastian Loeb, Bahrain Raid Xtreme: “I think it was quite a good day. For sure, the performance was not exactly what we could have hoped for, but we drove a good stage, with one little navigation mistake where we lost a few minutes, a little puncture also, but overall, it was a long and tough stage, so we’re happy to be here”.  

For Yazeed Al-Rajhi a second forced stop on the stage would prove to be costly and drop him down the order eventually finishing the day in 44th and 26th overall, a huge disappointment having led the early running.

Nasser Al-Attiyah meanwhile made it look all too easy taking a third stage for 2020 and 38th in the Dakar beating the rookie Henk Lategan by over 2 minutes who now sits 7th overall. With Stephane Peterhansel losing 4 minutes on his rivals during the stage with his own puncture issues finishing third proved to be an achievement in itself. Peterhansel would be satisfied that despite finishing 5 minutes adrift of Al-Attiyah he was able to take over at the top of the standings overall.

Nasser Al-Attiyah, Toyota Gazoo Racing: “I’m quite happy. Today we really pushed a lot and Mathieu did the navigation well. Everything is working very well like we need it to. I’m really quite happy with the pace, because to open and to win the stage is good, you know? I think there was one point where it was very, very difficult navigation and I think most of the drivers got lost there”.

Stephane Peterhansel, X-Raid Mini JCW Team: “Today it was a really complete stage. At the beginning it was trial-like in the rocks, with the big rocks. On the first trial section we got a puncture, so after that I took it a little more safely in the rocks. After that, there were sometimes canyons, sandy canyons, nice dunes also and a fast plateau… It was a really good mix. The result is not perfect because of the puncture, but I’m really happy with the job done by Edouard Boulanger my co-pilot. In the complicated places, he did a really good job. I’m happy with the car and I’m happy with the co-pilot, so it’s good for the next day”.

Tim Coronel, Tom Coronel, Jefferies Dakar Rally, Coronel Dakar Team, Images Supplied by ASO, Photographer Eric Vargiolu

LIGHTWEIGHT VEHICLE

Francisco Lopez Contardo continued on his way to another victory leading stage 3 from the word go and with no real issues in the dunes now was able to finish the stage having done 4 hours and 20 minutes of rallying extending his overall lead in the Dakar to over a minute. Aron Domzala found the terrain difficult but was able to maintain a six-minute gap to the leader despite only finishing 7th for the stage.

Aron Domzala, Monster Energy Can-Am: “The stage was quite tough with very hard dunes for us. We got one puncture and got lost once so we lost around ten minutes. Apart from that, everything else was really nice. Today we drove without the windscreen, but it was quite ok”.

Austin Jones held on to third impressively finishing 23 seconds off the overall leader a penalty for missing a way point added a minute to his overall time putting him down to third overall just 8 minutes behind.

Austin Jones, Monster Energy Can-Am: “A lot of people made navigational errors and we had none, so supper stoked with that, when we finally caught up with Lopez Contardo we ended up getting two punctures within about 5 Km”

Jose Antonio Hinojo Lopez used the Andalucía Rally as a test of his car’s suspension and overall setup prior to the Dakar, whatever he found out certainly worked moving up to 7th overall in the SSV category. Following his brothers third stage victory in the cars, Khalifa Al-Attiyah continued to impress during his rookie Dakar rally eventually finishing 5th on the third stage moving himself up to 29th overall.

Cristina Gutierrez Herrero made steady progress and maintained her top 4 in the Lightweight standings and leader of the Lightweight Prototype classification she comfortably out drove young Seth Quintero, the rookie American driver is continuing to make good progress keeping himself firmly in contention for a possible podium and safely inside the top 10 in the class.

 

Patrick Becquart, Romain Becquart, BBR/Mercier, Images Supplied by ASO, Photographer Eric Vargiolu

TRUCK

Dmitry Sotnikov, Ruslan Akhmadeev and Ilgiz Akhmetzianov started day three of the Dakar as the leading Truck class competitors, having won the opening two stages for Kamaz Masters in a comfortable manner and clocking up a total of 8 hours running so far, their advantage of just over 17 minutes over Siarhei Viazovich, Pavel Haranin and Anton Zaparoshchanka in the MAZ Sportsauto was already beginning to look like a daunting prospect for everyone else to match.

The opening of the third stage did not bode well for some however and that included the Dutch trio of Maurik Van Den Heuvel, Wilko Van Oort and Martijn Van Rooij in their Dakarspeed Scania Lonestar, the Scania rolling on its nose multiple times over one of the tall sand dunes ending their Dakar on the trucks roof, luckily no one was hurt but it was a sudden reminder of how unforgiving this rally can be on all who enter.

Maurik Van Den Heuvel, Dakarspeed Scania Lonestar: “We passed over a little bit over the hight dune, I don’t know why maby a bit fast or not paying attention in my mind. We tipped over on our nose and turned over, sadly that’s it for the Dakar I think”.

At the first check point of stage 3 the normally unflappable Dmitry Sotnikov was looking to be taking things slowly and steady to conserve his lead. Aliaksei Vishneuski, Maksim Novikau and Siarhei Sachuk had closed the gap to the Kamaz Master Dakar leader with, fellow MAZ Sportauto teammates Siarhei Viazovich, Pavel Haranin and Anton Zaparoshchanka just over 10 seconds back. The real shock at the start of the day came from Big Shock Racing Iveco, the experienced team made up of Martin Macik, Frantisek Tomasek, David Svanda had stated before the rally started that they believed the unbeatable Kamaz Masters could be caught in 2021 and were already making ground on crossing the first stage narrowly behind the charging MAZ Sportauto’s.

Martin Macik, Big Shock Racing: “I’m really looking forward to fighting with Kamaz. They have four trucks; four similar drivers and they are fast as shit! I know it’s possible to catch them -maybe not all of them- but I will certainly do my best.”

Sotnikov maintained the gap over the chasing pack perfectly during the first 88 km with Martin Macik pushing up to second behind just 8 seconds adrift. The 2019 runner up Anton Shibalov now partnered with Dmitrii Mikitin and Ivan Tatarinov in the fellow Kamaz Masters had retained third overall throughout the opening stages choosing to maintain a strong pace without incident, just as Martin Macik had with the Big Shock Racing Iveco, Anton Shibalov was determined to do the same the same closing within 24 seconds of his Kamaz Masters teammate followed closely behind by Aliaksei Vishneuski in the MAZ Sportauto.

Shibalov’s continued pushing and carful driving eventually paid off taking the lead at the 183 km mark from his teammate Dmitry Sotnikov, at just over 20 seconds the leading group were now becoming a tightly contested pack including Siarhei Viazovich and Martin Macik. Martin would eventually drop off the lead trio getting stuck in the high sand dunes putting him 4th on the day and exactly 26 minutes adrift of the leaders.

Martin Macik, Big Shock Racing: “Sometimes it was really crazy we had big climbs in the dunes, we had to go back two or three times, so we lost a bit their otherwise thought we really enjoyed the whole stage”.

Siarhei Viazovich would go on to take the lead at the 262 Km mark and despite a few close calls with electrical issues go on to claim the first stage win for MAZ Sportauto a great present for the team who celebrated their 10th Anniversary in December.

Dmitry Sotnikov would remain hot on the Belarusian heals for the remainder of the stage just 18 seconds adrift, despite finishing 2nd on the day the Russian retaining the overall lead with Anton Shibalov rounding out the top three for Kamaz Masters on a day where careful driving certainly paid off. As was shown by defending champion, Andrey Karignov who continued to make up time after his stage 1 disappointment and was now up to 12th overall.

Siarhei Viazovich, Pavel Haranin, Anton Zaparoshchanka, Images Supplied by ASO, Photographer Julien Delfosse

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