Sainz wins fourth Dakar Rally as Brabec takes bikes crown

Carlos Sainz added another jewel to his crown by claiming his fourth  Dakar Rally victory, closing out his decisive triumph on Friday’s brief 175km/109-mile loop course around Yanbu to the finish line. Enjoying a huge lead going into the final stage, the Spaniard — who also has two World Rally championships to his name — was able to play it cautiously, running 17th, but the Audi Sport driver still wound up a decisive 1h20m ahead of runner-up Guillaume de Mevius (Overdrive Toyota) for the full 7,891km/4903-mile trek.

“When you work hard and you believe in yourself, when you have a good team and good people around you, then the work will always pay off,” said Sainz after making Audi a winner in the manufacturer’s third Dakar with its unique RS Q e-tron, which features two electric motors from Audi’s Formula E program, one on each axle, along with a 2.0I4 gasoline engine. “This car is so special, it’s so difficult to manage, it has been so difficult to make it work.

At 61, Sainz fourth victory makes him the oldest winner in the marathon event’s history, beating his own record. All four of his wins (2010, 2018 and 2020) have come with different manufacturers, another point he relishes.


“To finish and to win this race, well, I’m so happy for Audi,” he said. I think the energy comes from the passion I have. It’s obviously, believing in yourself, believing that you can still drive and a lot of work behind the scenes as well,” said Sainz. “To be here at my age and to stay at the level, you need to work a lot beforehand. It doesn’t just come like that.”

Although the Spaniard led from the sixth stage on through today’s final 12th stage, he never actually took a stage win, taking a strategic approach that avoided many of the mechanical failures and navigational errors that befell his rivals, like the suspension failure that knocked out his most serious pursuer, Sébastien Loeb, on Thursday.

“I think yesterday was an important day for the win, but it’s been important from the beginning,” Sainz noted. “There were a lot of favorites but like always in the Dakar, somebody is stopped by problems and from maybe 10th you can go to ninth, eighth, seventh and so on. I think we drove at a really good pace. We had a good strategy and good support from the team.”

A similar story played out in the motorcycle class with a veteran taking a steady approach, but America’s Ricky Brabec seemingly got stronger as the event went on. The Monster Energy Honda rider closed out his second Dakar win by 10m53s over Ross Branch (Hero Motorsports), admitting he’d felt the pressure on him more this time around than in his decisive first win on the event in 2020.

“It wasn’t easy. The course was really tough, the competition was tough,” said Brabec. “Ross and my own team kept me on my toes — but not just me, I think we were keeping everyone on each other’s toes. It was definitely a fight to the end for everyone.

“I’m really happy we’re all here and all safe and we can go home. Overall, it was a good rally. This time was a little bit different. I feel like this one was more earned. This time was a lot tougher. In 2020, we had a big gap from the get-go. Here, I think me and Ross spent three days with a couple of seconds difference. It was a tight race for all of us. I think between first and third there are 11 minutes or something.

Brabec’s only stage win on Wednesday’s Stage 10 gave him his first multi-minute lead, but he said that didn’t lessen the pressure.

“I had two good days, two opportunities to make a good push, but also stage 11 was a scare factor for me because I knew Ross was starting behind me, 18 minutes behind, and if he caught me it would be over,” Brabec said. “Stage 11 was hard for me, but I stayed focused, got to the finishing line and didn’t lose too much time. I’m happy for all of us — we did an excellent job all of the two weeks. I think No. 9 will be my lucky number from now on.”

Another American had looked set for victory in the Challenger class, but late drama struck on the final stage. Mitch Guthrie Jr. started today’s brief run with a comfortable 25-minute lead, but the Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team driver hit transmission trouble 138km in and had to wait for assistance. That allowed teammate Cristina Gutiérrez to power past. The Spaniard is the first woman to win a Dakar title since Jutta Kleinschmidt in 2001.

“I always tried to fight until the finish. We didn’t know what had happened until the last kilometers,” said Gutiérrez, who wound up 35m ahead of Guthrie Jr. “One of my values is to never give up and always in the race I never gave up. I pushed myself until the finish. It’s the best finish possible and I want to say thanks to Red Bull, to Arnaud and to all the team for giving us this beautiful car.”

Other class winners included Xavier de Soultrait in SSV, Alexandre Giroud in quads, and Martin Macík, who captured the truck category behind the wheel of his Iveco in his 12th run on the world’s toughest marathon.

Story originally appeared on Racer