After Mattias Ekström lost hope of a strong finish in this year’s Dakar Rally when his Audi RS Q e-tron had a suspension failure on Sunday’s seventh stage, the Swedish driver might have given up. Instead, he used disappointment as motivation and took his first stage win since the event prologue on Monda’s 458km/285-mile leg from Al-Duwadimi to Ha’il.
“We had a good stage — I enjoyed it from the beginning to the end,” Ekström said, although the pain of Sunday’s setback was clearly still foremost in his thoughts.
“Yesterday, on the left-rear suspension, there were three nuts that were loose and when they fell off, it broke and then we had to wait for assistance to change the parts,” he explained. “For sure, it’s devastating for Emil [Bergqvist, co-driver], myself and for the entire team, when you have the chance to go for a Dakar podium. For me it’s the toughest and the greatest you can achieve in motorsports. I will be disappointed for a long time for what happened yesterday, but it’s already history now and we have to take all the experience we can from this rally.”
Audi teammate Stéphane Peterhansel, who has had a frustrating Dakar himself with multiple setbacks, followed Ekström home in second on the stage, 2m45s behind, while Toyota Overdrive Racing’s Guerlain Chicherit took third. A steady fourth, though, was Carlos Sainz Sr. The Spanish rally ace, who is Audi’s remaining hope for victory, padded his overall lead to 24m47s over Sébastien Loeb. The Frenchman, winner of the last two stages with his Prodrive Hunter, was a frustrated 10th on Monday, losing 10 minutes to a navigational error. Lucas Moraes (Toyota Gazoo Racing Hilux) is third overall, but 1h05m behind.
Still, Sainz was in no mood to celebrate, as the three-time Dakar champion knows how quickly fortunes can change in the marathon event.
“There’s still a long way for me and there are long stages to come. You can see how easy it is to lose five or 10 minutes on this race. It’s so easy, due to navigation, punctures, everything,” he noted. “It’s very stressful. But it was all good today.”
Kevin Benavides of Red Bull KTM Factory Team flies across the Stage 08 dunes. Marcelo Maragni/Red Bull Content Pool
Reigning Dakar motorcycle champion Kevin Benavides won his second stage of this year’s event, although he remains fifth overall, 20m behind leader Ricky Brabec.
“Today was two completely different specials,” related Benavides, who rides for KTM Factory Racing. “The first part was sandy with dunes, then we had the transfer in the middle and then we switched terrain and entered here in this kind of rocky terrain and mountains. I feel good, I enjoyed my ride today. The last part was fun. I think I did some good work, so we need to continue pushing.”
It was an OK day for American rider Brabec, who took seventh on the stage with his Monster Energy Honda but gained a slight advantage on his nearest pursuer Ross Branch (Hero Motorsports), who is now 42s behind. Brabec’s teammate Nacho Cornejo remains third, 4m21s back.
His seventh place today means Brabec will not set off tomorrow in the leading group, which could be a good strategy.
“It’s been a tough day because there’s a little bit of games going on out there,” he said. “Tomorrow is supposed to be tricky, so people are kind of slowing down, but we’ll see what happens. We’ve got four days left to go and hopefully all is good. We’ll have some fun and stay focused. The last day with the new Dakar, for sure it’s going to be crucial.”