Al-Attiyah wins the fourth title in the Dakar Rally; Sunderland claims the bike title

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Qatari driver Nasser Al-Attiyah won the Dakar Rally for the fourth time after the grueling two-week journey through the Saudi desert reached its climax on Friday.

Al-Attiyah, who previously won in 2011, 2015 and 2019, took the overall titles by nearly half an hour over nine-times World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb in France.

British motorcycle rider Sam Sunderland won his second Dakar Rally title earlier today.

The tragedy of the last stage was marred by the death of 20-year-old French mechanic Quentin Lavalle in a car accident.

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

“The Dakar was great for us,” said the 51-year-old Toyota driver.

“We haven’t won since 2019. There were three strong teams that could win. Mathieu (his French assistant Baumel) and I, the team, did a good job to win.

“We have been second every time since we came to Saudi Arabia two years ago, and now we are really happy to have achieved our goal.

“The whole race went unimpeded.”

South Africa’s Henk Latigan won the final stage of the motorsport, and Dakar record holder Stephan Peterhansel came second in his plug-in hybrid electric Audi.

The German manufacturer had said before the race that it had no ambitions to win the overall title in what was its first entry with a hybrid model, but it achieved several stage victories.

My head could explode

Sunderland, who in 2017 became the first British champion in the car or bike category, finished 3min 27sec ahead of Chilean Pablo Quintanilla and Austrian Matthias Falkner to take the flag in Jeddah.

Sunderland, 32, dominated the first week but had to battle for the overall lead over recent days and gave up a few times before finally coming out on top.

He said that not everything was so smooth in the final stage that he entered with sound progress.

“Honestly, I couldn’t be happier,” said Sunderland.

“This last stage was very difficult and very stressful…a lot of moving around, a lot of difficult notes, a bit confusing a few times and I’m not sure I was going in the right direction.

“Phew. Honestly, my head could explode. In the last 10 minutes, I wasn’t sure if I was going to win, they just told me, Wow, it’s a dream come true.

“You’ve had a very tough season, but when you win the Dakar, it was all worth it. So cool.”

For Quintanilla, it was a nice bonus after he left Husqvarna to replace 2021 champion Kevin Benavides at Honda.

The 35-year-old said this was his “most stressful” Dakar so far, although his spirits were boosted by his countrymen messaging him.

“You crossed the moon with this score,” he said.

“It was a 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 exhausting both physically and mentally. But I’m really happy with my performance in the race.”

Walkner, who was champion in 2018, was ecstatic with his finishing position.

“If you had told me before the race that I would be able to finish the race in the top three, I would have said: Where should I sign?” said the 35-year-old.

“I’m going to enjoy that podium position, which feels like a victory.”

(AFP)

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