Peru welcomed the 41st edition of the Dakar that finished today in Lima after 10 punishing stages, the outcome of which was victory for a heroic Toby Price in the bike race, Nasser Al-Attiyah with his third title in the car category thanks to his exemplary strategic poise, Nicolás Cavigliasso unprecedentedly dominating the quad category, Francisco “Chaleco” López succeeding in his comeback and conversion after six years of absence with a win in the SxS race and Eduard Nikolaev picking up his fourth title in the truck race. Beyond the winners, 179 riders, drivers and crews (75 bikes, 15 quads, 76 cars, 20 SxS and 13 trucks) reached Lima to enjoy a podium ceremony at the end of the day on Magdalena beach, where it all started.
The loop around Pisco explored the Ica desert from an entirely new perspective. It started with an 80 km dune sector, followed by a series of coastal dunes separated by the Subida de los Burros ascent and, to cap it all, another sequence of dunes with three fearsome massifs in the final 100 kilometres —more than enough to throw sand in the gears of the top riders and drivers, as Adrien Van Beveren, Stéphane Peterhansel and Sébastien Loeb came to know.
On the return journey to Pisco, the riders and drivers were served up a cocktail of sand for 360 km, before they get the chance to savour a flavoursome Pisco Sour! The day started with fesh-fesh and was followed by an intermittence of beaches for almost 80 kilometres. Before encountering the genuine chains of dunes to be crossed to reach the finishing line of the special, care had to be taken to avoid stalling in the formidable “subida de los burros”. The dunes of Ica, already partially visited during stage two, were more comprehensively explored, with the aim of submitting the participants to the most demanding of ascensions and descents, for example at the 300-kilometre mark on the special. To finish the route, a final portion of off-track racing required maximum awareness from the co-pilots.
Visitors to San Juan de Marcona are usually looking for the best plan to discover the Nazca Lines. Stage 7 of the Dakar was completely different, with an assortment of difficulties to fray the nerves of all types of competitors. The fast men were in their element in the fast off-road sectors of the first 100 kilometres, only to suffer in the fesh-fesh and on the rough tracks on a plateau halfway through the stage. For the next 50 kilometres, the focus switched to the dune surfers, with the Duna Grande and Duna Argentina sectors, later to transition to faster stretches near the end of the stage… all while dodging the navigational pitfalls in the vicinity of San Juan.
The trek from Yauca to the small town of San Juan de Marcona can seem a pleasant ride. Less than 100 km separate these two places going down the Panamericana road on the Pacific coast. However, the field of the Dakar faced an entirely different challenge, starting with a long liaison to the start of the special (267 km for the motorbikes and 443 km for the cars). Right after the start, the competitors tackled the fearsome dunes of Tanaka, the toughest dune sector in the rally, which is even nastier than in 2018. Then came the slightly easier dunes of Acari, back after stage 3 but on a different course, and a detour on the beach of Puerto de Lomas to freshen up the competitors before a long off-road section. The final showdown took place on the Duna Grande and Duna Argentina sequence, which were not as difficult as the dunes of Tanaka but came at the end of a gruelling stage. A laser-like focus was crucial to make it to the finish!
On completion of the first 5 stages that have brought the riders, drivers and crews to Arequipa, there are still 247 vehicles left in the race on the 41st edition of the Dakar (105 bikes, 18 quads, 93 cars, including 24 SxS, and 32 trucks), which is the lowest number of participants left at the mid-way point since 2007 (74%). For the survivors of this demanding route, the bikers have been dominated by young American Ricky Brabec, who is holding the hopes of Honda to bring the domination of KTM on the event to a close. In the car race, on the contrary a trio of experienced drivers, made up of Nasser Al Attiyah, Stéphane Peterhansel and Nani Roma, stand out from the rest, among which can be found Sébastian Loeb, who has won two stages. The stage on which the rally resumes, between Arequipa and San Juan de Marcona, promises to be the theatre of a formidable battle, with the major test of the Tanaka dunes at the beginning. The way back to Lima holds in store another festival of sand.
The riders and drivers of the Dakar will have fully deserved their rest day, on completion of the 5th stage, which was made up of the longest and most varied timed sections on the rally. The start took place for everyone in Tacna, which is the furthest point from Lima that the riders and drivers have reached this year. They started the journey back to the Peruvian capital by crossing a long zone of fesh-fesh before tackling the first tracks of the day, winding through sumptuous canyons, much to the delight of photographers and skid enthusiasts. The long first portion came to a close in the dunes of Ilo, where the bikes and quads experienced a double dose of sand. In the meantime, the cars, SxS and trucks got to grips with a second part of the special, made up of 137 extra kilometres, with the formidable fesh-fesh already visited the day before on the menu, a terrain for the brave!
The ingredients for the first part of the marathon stage set the tone of the challenge. On leaving the White City, a small zone of dunes distracted the riders and drivers who quickly understood that the day would be a difficult one: fesh-fesh wears down nerves and machinery and there was plenty of it throughout the stage. In some places, especially alongside the Rio Tambo towards the end of the first 200 kilometres, the tracks became rather rocky. However, once they had come off the high plateau of the Pampa de la Clemesí, they again had to deal with this fine, untameable dust. The final straight between the port of Ilo and Moquegua gave some sort of comfort for competitors who like to have fun with the trajectories that they take… but only on the condition that they were able to slalom between the stones!
Arequipa, the second most populous city in Peru, lies at the foot of the Misti volcano and, although today's special took place somewhere else, the Dakar saw an eruption turn the various classifications on their heads. Today, the competitors raced far to the north, in the Duna Grande and Duna Argentina areas near San Juan de Marcona, before moving higher (2,000 masl) in the Cobrepampa region, where fiendish navigation put paid to the hopes of Joan Barreda. Later on, sections of fesh-fesh put handling skills to the test in the third part of the stage, which alternated between fast stretches and the Acarí dunes.
The second longest stage of the rally varied in aspect, with an alternation of dunes, sandy tracks and potions of beaches. Once they had made it passed the difficulties of Ica’s dunes, the riders and drivers headed to the Pacific Ocean and followed the coast for one hundred kilometres, over small dunes and sandy beaches. A quicker section heading north was perfectly utilised by Sébastien Loeb, who managed to keep sufficient pace in the last 50 kilometres through the dunes of Ocucaje, just before the finishing line of the special.
Pisco is not only the city that has given its name to Pisco Sour, a cocktail that is the pride of the country as well as a source of many arguments and discussions with their Chilean neighbours about just who invented it. Since 2012 and the first visit of the Dakar, it has been one of the rally’s “classics”. On this first stage, the riders, drivers and crews did battle among the dunes for almost 70% of the special stage route. To the north of the Ica region, this specific geographical zone has been named California!
541 competitors and 334 vehicles —137 motorbikes, 26 quads, 130 cars (including 30 S×S) and 41 trucks— were cleared to start the 41st edition of the Dakar at the end of the technical and administrative scrutineering. Before the start of the race, the drivers, riders and crews will get a big send-off from the fans during the podium ceremony in Lima. The celebration will take place on Magdalena beach, where over 100,000 visitors flocked to enjoy a wide range of activities in the Feria Dakar over the last three days. The first round comes tomorrow with a sand-packed 84 km course in the Pisco region. Let the dune festival begin!
The victories achieved by Kevin Benavides in the bike race, Ignacio Casale in the quad category, Giniel de Villiers in the car race and Ton van Genugten in the truck category did not affect the positions at the top of the rally’s hierarchy. Matthias Walkner became the first Austrian winner on a bike, with Austrian brand KTM continuing to dominate the event thanks to a 17th consecutive success. For its last participation, Peugeot also retained the title, but this time only one of their cars was on the podium, namely the 3008 Maxi driven by winner Carlos Sainz. Under threat until the day before the finish from Federico Villagra, in the end Eduard Nikolaev obtained a third title behind the wheel of his Kamaz. As for Chilean Ignacio Casale, to win his 2nd Dakar he dominated the general standings from start to finish.
This was the last genuine opportunity to make the difference and gain a place in the general standings for the competitors. They had to be watchful on the first part of the special in which the dunes of San Juan had pride of place as well as a section of fesh-fesh that can cause major damage to racing hopes. The quick tracks at the end of the special suited WRC experts down to the ground, but there was always the danger of getting carried away with speed and making a mistake the day before the finish…
The arrival in the region of San Juan was by no means a soft landing, because the competitors had to tackle the longest special of the rally, totalling 523 km. It was a mixture of sand, fast tracks and bumpy rocky sections that severely tested the riders’ and drivers’ capacities with the tiredness of the last 12 days starting to take its toll. Weather and safety problems forced the organisers to cancel the stage for the bike and quad categories