There could have been no better way to enjoy this Saturday’s rest-day at Dakar 2020 for Carlos Sainz than as leader of the standings. The Spaniard has managed to get into the top position a week into the race.
Sainz currently holds an eight-minute advantage over the great favourite and title defendant, the Qatari Nasser Al-Alattiyah (Toyota Gazoo Racing). One place and sixteen minutes below him is his X-Raid teammate and rival Stephane Peterhansel. True, these are very small distances, but surely, the best way to face the second part of the raid is with your rivals behind you.
The champion from Madrid and his inseparable co-pilot, Lucas Cruz, have had a sensational first half of the rally, leaving all of their opponents behind. Right from the first special, the ‘young’ veteran has demonstrated once more his first-rate driving skills onboard his Mini John Cooper Works Buggy.
The pair have had two victories (stages 3 and 5) over the six specials disputed so far, climbing to and maintaining their position at the top of the table.
They have also obtained two third places (stages 1 and 4), and a magnificent second place this past Friday to close off the first half of the competition. It is worth remembering that they were also opening the track on Friday after having won the stage on Thursday the 9th.
Despite the obvious disadvantage that is starting in the first place and the subsequent loss of time with respect of those behind, the Mini pair battled it out to hang on to the lead. The trio of favourites (Sainz, Peterhansel and Attiyah) have in fact starred in some spectacular chases and exciting duels so far.
Sainz’ role in the development of the Mini
Besides Carlos Sainz’ obvious talent at the wheel, the qualitative jump of his Mini has proved crucial in allowing him to fight with the Toyotas this 2020. These improvements bear the signature of the two-time Dakar and World Rally Champion.
The great behaviour of the German machine this year has come about in part thanks to the Spaniard. As soon as the Dakar 2019 was over, Sainz set up a rigorous improvement plan. He demanded the team focuses on the elimination of the shortcomings displayed by the car in the 2018 and 2019 appointments. After that, they could move onto raising the general competitive level of the Mini. It was thanks to his vision and the many hours he spent testing the Mini that its weaknesses were resolved.
Amongst the problems tackled have been the automatic inflation and deflation of the tires which has now disappeared, offering the Mini Buggy a great strategic advantage over the Toyota, the initial favourites to take the Tuareg trophy.
The front part of the car has also been modified to improve the angle in which it tackles the dunes. Judging by what we have seen so far, the German 4×2 seems to adapt better to the route of the Dakar 2020 than the fearsome Toyota Hilux 4×4.
So far, the German buggy has dominated over a wide variety of both stony and sandy terrain and fast and broken tracks. The spectacular landscapes have also presented some natural traps such as the dreaded camel grass (small bushes).
Images: Carlos Sainz Twitter.