Dakar stages can sometimes be long and fast at the same time, especially when it comes to transition stages in which link the various section that make up much of the course without detracting from the excitement of the race, at 813 km long the forth stage of the Dakar is one of the longest.
A big part of the forth stage took place on tracks, not tarmacs a thoughtful detail that no doubt reminded veterans of the winding tracks of the Nafadad Dahi and as Sawasah, not least because they were also instructed to change course after reaching a lone tree that evoked memories of a different one. An icon of sorts. The fast special gave competitors the chance to test their top speeds and a taste of the sense of freedom that can only be found in some desert areas of the world. In the second link sector, these dream-like moments passing mountains, large dunes and a arid plane that looked more out of Africa than Saudi Arabia. Passing sparsely populated landscapes that successively gave way to hamlets, villages and suburban neighbourhoods as the race drew ever closer to the capital Riyadh.
Dakar 2021, Stage 4 Wadi Ad-Dawasir > Riyadh, Image Supplied by ASO
Nicolas Cavigliasso was still celebrating his previous days stage victory as he set off in pursuit of Giovanni Enrico, Enrico who had finished in the top 3 for each of the opening stages would start the fourth stage with a narrow lead of just over 4 minutes from Frenchman Alexandre Giroud and would now be facing a much more rigorous challenge to maintain his overall lead from the Argentinian that won 9 stages in 2019.
At 80 Km the fight for the stage lead was still wide-open Manuel Adujar had found his way to the front of the pack by passing both Alexandre Giroud and Nicolas Cavigliasso but with just a minute between the top 3 it was still anyone’s for the taking. Pablo Copetti was struggling to find a way through the sand dunes and problems with his Yamaha Raptor forced him to stop dropping the American down the order by 17 minutes.
With the top 3 in a stalemate and unchanged Manuel Adujar was able to push on all the way to his first stage win of the Dakar in 2021, having narrowly missed out on the overall podium last year the Argentinian is showing no signs of giving up on the top step this year. His stage win pushes him up to 4th at the end of the day and 22 minutes behind the leader.
As Nicolas Cavigliasso and Alexandre Giroud rounded out the podium finishers it did not go unnoticed that the two overall leaders were separated by just 9 seconds for the overall lead, with the next two stages seen as the most challenging so far, the race for Dakar is still far from over. With no other surprises on stage 4 the day seems to have passed without any major issues for the fourteen riders still running in the Quad category.
Nicolas Cavigliasso, Drag’on Rally Team: “I’m happy with how my day went. I started at the front and stayed there. Well, more or less, as I finished second. It was a great stage and I had fun.”
Nicolas Cavigliasso, Yamaha Dragon Rally Team, Quad, Images Supplied by ASO, Photographer Frederic Le Floc’h
Even before the start of what was seen by many as the longest stage of the Dakar their came news of further withdrawals from the event, 59-year-old rookie Angelo Pedemonte has suffered cracked ribs on the stage 3 special and was in no fit state to continue, joining him would be Nicolas Robledo Serna who dislocated his shoulder after falling onto rooks during the opening part of Tuesdays stage despite falling he was able to finish the third stage before calling it a day. In total 7 riders had chosen to either abandon or withdraw since the prologue with Jobard Willy the biggest name amongst the retirees.
Toby Price had it all to do he would need all his experience and skill in riding the Red Bull KTM in order to catch the HT Rally Raid Husqvarna Racing of surprised leader Xavier De Soultrait. Price would be leading the charge followed by Kevin Benavides, who was eager to make up for the disappointment of stage 3 for which he led most of before falling back in sight of the finish.
Matthias Walkner would also need a good day having suffered clutch issues on the second stage and now needing to make up time on American Skyler Howes. Howes himself started the day well fast catching up with Xavier De Soultrait, but a fall in the dunes put him 13 minutes adrift early on leaving him with all the work to do on an exceptionally long stage.
Having bounced back from his earlier issues, Matthias Walkner was able to post an initial opening way point time for the stage 2 seconds faster than Toby Price. Laia Sanz and fellow female rider Audrey Rossat had found their grove each positing initial way point times over the opening Kilometers of the stage that put them within the top 30 overall, Rossat speed trap was an eye catching 138 km/h average, faster than even that of Price and a new personal best.
Daniel Sanders has continued to outride many of his fellow riders and prove why many feel he could be the next big name of the Dakar despite being 16 minutes down on Skyler Howes overall he is still one of a handful of riders all within touching distance of Joan Barreda. Ross Branch and Pablo Quintanilla remain close to the stage leader and are being caught rapidly by Matthias Walkner and Toby Price.
Unfortunately, a broken piston rod would be the end of one of the more determined rookies, Alexander Azinhais joined the rally at the last minute but soon became a familiar face around the bivouac and Dakar. His dream was to take part in the event since competing in the Africa Eco Race, Merzouga Rally and Algerian International Rally.
Alexander Azinhais, Club Adventura Touareg: “The Dakar represents for me the ultimate endurance motor race, where you challenge your mental and physical limits and also have to manage your own motorcycle. It also represents freedom and joy because I love what I do.”
After the events of Stage 1 and the problems with the NAV book you would have thought that Toby Price would be able to put that behind him, sadly for the Australia he would lose 5 minutes for a fatal lapse in concentration for exsactly the same reason. The resulting loss of time dropped the stage leader out of contention and handed Joan Berreda the overall stage lead.
Berreda lead continued to grow and by the 172 Km mark was nearly 2 minutes over Ross Branch, Pablo Quintanilla the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing was a further 3 minutes back but now faced a barrage of faster riders looking to take advantage, Jose Ignacio Cornejo, Daniel Sanders, Joaquim Rodriguez and Stefan Svitko all within touching distance of the top 3.
Daniel Sanders, KTM Factory Team: “It was a good day, today, for me. I started off strong. I tried to concentrate on the roadbook as much as I could, and then I had a really good crash in the dunes. I made sure I didn’t injure my shoulder again, from a few weeks ago, when I dislocated it. It was good to finish strong, only a couple little mistakes. At the end there were some rocky canyons. I think it went pretty well, even though I must have lost a minute looking for a waypoint near the finish.”
Ricky Barbec had chosen not to look for time on the stage deciding to play it safe and look to make up time in the much more open stage 5 but would end up finishing the day a distant 18th, while Sam Sunderland was just short of the top 10 in 11th also choosing to save his bike and go for it in tomorrow’s stage.
It wasn’t such good news for Chunchunguppe Shivashankar Santosh who was thrown from his bike and needed to be air lifted out of the Dakar to be treated for concussion ending the Indians sixth attempt at the rally.
A final twist for the day went to Xavier De Soultrait, the overall Dakar leader crashed, and lost time having taken the lead of Joan Berreda with the crash the 15 second advantage was wiped out and any chance of the win gone.
Xavier De Soultrait, HT Rally Raid Husqvarna Racing: “It’s difficult to open up large gaps in stages like these. We’d have to attack like a madman, but we’re already going very fast. I again reached 175 km/h today. I could go faster, but I don’t feel like it. You also need to follow the roadbook… At any rate, my pace is really good.”
The stage win went to Joan Berreda who started the day off looking to get back within touch of Xavier De Soultrait and stay clear of Ross Branch, with De Soultrait coming home 7 minutes behind the not only was it Berreda day but with it was his second stage win of the Dakar. With the gap between the top two riders now closed right up to 15 seconds. Daniel Sanders finished the day third his best finish to a Dakar stage in his rookie year.
Joan Barreda, Monster Energy Honda Team 2021: “It was another good stage. I started very far back because of my result yesterday, but that’s the way it is in this Dakar, you’re either at the front or far back. We need to keep it up. I’ve used three tyres so far. I think the one I used today is quite worn, but I was supposed to use it for three days, so it’s not great news. But we’ll see what we can do in the coming days.”
Joan Bort Barreda, Monster Energy Honda Team 2021, Moto, Images Supplied by ASO, Photographer Antonin Vincent
It would be easy to assume that Stephane Peterhansel and Edouard Boulanger had been relentlessly pushing their fellow drivers by going on the attack from the off, but that simply was not the case Carlos Sainz, Sebastien Loeb and Nasser Al-Attiyah were all pushing just as hard but had suffered from a list of problems that had put all but Al-Attiyah adrift of the Frenchman’s lead, stage 4 would be no different.
Nasser Al-Attiyah was the first to leave and first to set down a marker passing the first way point with a lead of 4 minutes over Henk Lategan. Hometown hero and fellow Toyota driver Yazeed Al Rajhi was once again struggling, this time it was mechanical issues that forced the Saudi Arabian to pull over having only completed 30 Km, forced to call upon his crew to try to help the stricken Overdrive Toyota.
Teammates Mathieu Serradori and Yasir Seaidan came into this stage 3rd and 8th respectively, the pairing was hoping to gain ground on the leading duo, but the Frenchman was struggling to match Nasser Al-Attiyah passing through way point 3, 20 minutes adrift and falling back rapidly. In contrast Yasir Seaidan was only 43 seconds at the 80 Km mark and closing fast in on the leader in the SRT Racing Century CR6.
Henk Lategan was also putting the pressure on the stage leader; the Dakar rookie was now just 2 seconds adrift of Nasser Al-Attiyah with Stephane Peterhansel under a minute behind the Qutari. Meanwhile Mathie Sarradori fell fowl to the road map GPS issues Sainz and Loeb had suffered in the past few days, this would prove a disaster to the Frenchman who now falls 16 minutes behind Peterhansel overall having been 3rd on the road at the start of the stage.
Carlos Sainz meanwhile was in no mood to hang around determined to make up time on Nasser Al-Attiyah he flew past the 268 Km mark 51 seconds behind with Henk Lategan and just ahead of Stephane Peterhansel. This stage certainly suited the Spanish veterans full attack, never give up style and allows him to regain some of the lost time from what has been a disastrous start to the Dakar for the reigning champion.
For Henk Lategan, the chance of a stage win in the Dakar will have to wait his car tred gave way within touching distance of the lead ending his chances, despite the issues his pace was clearly their. Nasser Al-Attiyah once again proved why he is one of the best and takes his third stage win from four this year. Despite this impressive feet Al-Attiyah win was only by 11 seconds and he still trails “Mr Dakar” himself. Stephane Peterhansel who once again provided a fast consistent performance to remain 4 minutes clear at the top of the standings and 25 minutes clear of the unlucky Mathieu Serradori.
Henk Lategan, Toyota Gazoo Racing: “We were actually going really well in the beginning until a tyre delaminated. I do not know exactly what happened, but we had to stop and change it. Then we got a little bit lost in one of the canyons, but I think the rest of the day was really nice, really smooth.”
Nasser Al-Attiyah, Toyota Gazoo Racing: “It wasn’t an easy stage. We lost a minute to an error, but we were hardly the only ones to make a mistake and we quickly got back on track. Opening up a gap is difficult, but today it was good to have my teammate Henk Lategan right behind me. That is exactly what I need, a fast driver who can help me out.”
Stephane Peterhansel, X-Raid Mini JCW Team: “We’re not marking one another, it’s just one relentless attack after another, and in the end, we finished at the same time! Apart from a small navigation error near the finish, I do not think I can attack much more. To stay in contention, we need to go all out. So far, so good, as we are not making too many mistakes. In the old times, 50% of all contenders would be knocked out for the race by driving mistakes or technical issues, but it has become far less common, so you just have to hold on.”
For Sebastian Loeb it was a bittersweet stage despite posting the fourth fastest time and having no issues, he was handed a time penalty of 5 minutes for speeding through a check point, the penalty places him down in 6th overall and 44 minutes of the overall leader certainly not what the multiple world champion would have expected having driven so well on the stage.
Stephane Peterhansel, X-Raid Mini JCW Team, Images Supplied by ASO, Photographer Frederic Le Floc’h
The desert has been a mixed affair for some but on a day when speed, precision and experience were the key, a much-needed result went to the World Rally Championship winner Kris Meeke who brilliantly delivered across the fast plateau taking a well-deserved 2nd place in the PH Sport on stage 4 of the Dakar and 1st over the line for those taking part in their first Dakar, incredibly he finishing the day just under 2 minutes from the days stage winner Aron Domzala.
Domzala has surprised everyone by consistently staying out of trouble putting him just 3 minutes of the Lightweight Vehicle overall leader Franciso Lopez Contrado which will certainly give the Chillean legend something to consider. Another driver to watch out for was Mitchell Guthrie taking 3rd with the Red Bull Off Road Team USA, a great first section of todays stage put him right in the thick off the action and despite a small amount of drama right at the end, proved he was right back in the hunt for the overall honours.
Austin Jones gave Monster Energy Can Am something to further cheer about with 3rd in the SSV category putting the young American in 3rd overall in the Lightweight Vehicle classification just behind his teammate Aron Domzala, the team work certainly seems to be paying off as the pair are now only 8 minutes behind and looking likely to be pushing hard for the top spot.
After finishing as runner-up to Casey Currie last year, Sergey Karyakin is taking a cautious approach to this Dakar. Although the Russian rider has yet to finish a stage in the top 5, his consistency over the four stages held so far has put in him 4th place overall, 20 minutes behind the leader.
Sergey Karyakin, Snag Racing Team: “It was a nice stage. We got a bit lost because it was tricky to navigate, but we also had a blast. This was only the fourth stage. The Dakar is a very long race, as we all know.”
Having won the opening stage of this years Dakar Christina Gutierrez Herrero has not had much luck of it since, getting stuck in the dunes narrowly avoiding a tree she has once again struggling and dropped to 50th at the end of the stage, that said the first Spanish woman to win a stage in the Dakar for over 10 years is just outside the top 10 overalls but at over 1 hour behind any real chance of a podium must surely have vanished.
In truth thought the Dakar legend Franciso Lopez Contrado and winner of the 2019 SSV category has 10 years of experience on both two and four wheels, he looked calm and composed throughout today’s stage so loosing a few minutes to Aron Domzala will unlikely faze him.
Mitchell Guthrie, Ola Floene, Red Bull Off-Road Team USA, Images Supplied by ASO, Photographer Frederic Le Floc’h
Kamaz Masters have shown in the past why they are the favourites being able to work together and deliver when it comes to the Dakar winners 16 out of the last 20 editions of the event. For the most part they have very rarely been put under pressure but that looked to have changed when the Prologue took place all of a sudden that belief looked to be challenged as MAZ Sportauto and Big Shock Racing dominated the podium.
Over the opening two stages Dimitry Sotikov, Ruslan Akhmadeev and Ilgiz Akhmetzianov once again showed why the Russian powerhouse is still the team to beat, but do not let that deceive you, Siarhei Viazovich, Pavel Haranin and Anton Zaparoshchanka pulled a shock stage win out of the bag for MAZ Sportauto setting up stage 4 as a showdown between the two big teams, not forgetting Anton Shibalov, Dimitrii Nikitin and Ivan Tatarinov in the sister Kamaz Masters still in with a real chance.
Siarhei Viazovich got the MAZ Sportauto underway as the first truck on the stage looking to challenge the dominant Dimitry Sotikov Kamaz Masters who had a solid 17-minute lead at the top of the standings. Andrey Karginov may be down in 12th but as the reining champion should not be ruled out when it comes to stage wins.
It was not long before Andrey Karginov, Andrey Mokeev and Igor Leonov showed why they won the Dakar in 2020, going flat out on the opening section of the stage has put the Kamaz Masters team leader in front but with only a minute separating the top 9, he will have to keep his foot planted to the floor in order to win the stage.
Just when it all looked to be heading for a real show down between Kamaz Masters and MAZ Sportauto disaster struck, Siarhei Viazovich, Pavel Haranin and Anton Zaparoshchanka broke down after just 100 Km with a major mechanical failure, unable to fix the issue during the night the team and Siarhei Viazovich made the difficult decision to retire from the Dakar.
Andrey Karginov, Andrey Mokeev and Igor Leonov continued to power away at the front extending their lead on the stage, with Aliaksei Vishneuski, Maksim Novikau and Siarhei Sachuk the last remaining MAZ Sportauto now in the Dakar keeping a close gap to the stage leader finishing 3rd on the day but with so much time to make up any real chance of overall victory is surely a distant prospect. Martin Macik, Frantisek Tomasek and David Svanda in the Big Shock Racing continued to push on hard, for many they are the real threat now to Kamaz Masters and showed why finishing just 22 second behind the stage winner and moving up to 2nd overall.
It turned out to be a bad day for the Hino Team Sugawara team, Teruhito Sugawara rolled the Hino 500 requiring a real team effort to temporarily strap the bodywork back to its own chassis, co-pilots Hirokazu Somemiya and Yuji Mochizuki both finding some interesting ways to repair the damaged truck.
In the end however one man continued his dominance of this year’s Dakar, Dimitry Sotikov, Ruslan Akhmadeev and Ilgiz Akhmetzianov won the stage by just 10 seconds from Andrey Karginov, Andrey Mokeev and Igor Leonov. Winning the stage extended their lead overall 26 minutes from Martin Macik and Anton Shibalov with Airat Mardeev threatening to make the top 3 an all Kamaz Masters podium again.
Dimitry Sotikov, Kamaz Masters: “It wasn’t that easy. First there were dunes and then fields of rocks where we suffered a flat tyre. The second part was a nervous affair because we had another two punctures, but it really wasn’t fun. Then came an easier, faster section, followed by a part with trickier navigation, but our co-driver did a great job. We saw Viazovich after he stopped before the first neutralised sector, he probably had a mechanical, but I don’t think it was a flat tyre.”
The Big Shock Racing team may indeed have a battle on their hands but their still may be a shock on the horizon coming from Ignacio Casale, Alvaro Leon and David Hoffmann finished 6th on the stage and are now up to 6th overall the Tatra Buggyra Racing could yet be the dark horse of the Dakar.
Dmitry Sotnikov, Ruslan Akhmadeev, Ilgiz Akhmetzianov, Kamaz – Master, Images Supplied by ASO, Photographer Antonin Vincent