Nasser Al-Attiyah takes commanding fourth Dakar Rally crown

Nasser Al-Attiyah (Toyota Gazoo Racing) has conquered his fourth Dakar crown at the 44th edition of the famous rally, which ended this Friday, January 14, in the Saudia Arabian capital Riyadh.

The Qatari champion spent a total of 38 hours, 33 minutes and three seconds onboard the Hilux GR DKR Hilux T1+ that he shared with co-pilot Matthieu Baumel. 

Thanks to their consistence pace, they led Sebastien Loeb (Bahrain Raid Extreme) by almost half an hour (27 minutes and 46 seconds). The nine-time WRC champion has done everything in his power to make it difficult for Al-Attiyah but, in the end, he had to surrender to his superiority at the Dakar Rally 2022. 

After the debacle of Audi in the first day, Loeb became the only opponent capable of contesting, albeit minimally, the Qatari’s chances.

The driver from Alzenau did manage to take two stages (2nd and 7th), and came head-to-head with Al-Attiyah in a few occasions but in the end, he had to acknowledge his defeat. 

Loeb and his co-pilot Fabian Lurquin should be satisfied with their performance as they soon became the only real contenders for the crown despite their BRX Hunter T1 +, only being one year old. 

Their vehicle’s youth, nonetheless, put them at a disadvantage with the ‘veteran’ but powered by new engine Hilux. Unsurprisingly, the Prodrive car had to deal with a number of technical issues which hampered its performance. 

Behind the Qatari and the Frenchman, the local hero Yazeed Al- Rajhi. (Overdrive Toyota) completed the podium

Toyota & Nasser Al-Attiyah, an invincible match    

The all-terrain Japanese machine with its new engine, on the other hand, has proven to be infallible and unbeatable. Whether in high-speed sections, stony surfaces or dunes, the Toyota has flown ahead unopposed. 

Accustomed to the dunes and sand of his home country, Nasser Al-Attiyah completed a virtually perfect race with two victories in stages 1st and 4th. From the third stage onwards, he increased his lead to 37 minutes and 47 seconds, a distance which he kept practically intact right up to the finish line. 

His portentous exhibition at the eighth special of January 10, when he completed almost 200 km through a sea of dunes in two-wheel drive mode after his rear differential broke, will be remembered for years to come. Fortunately, his Toyota did not fail him and he gave a driving master class for such complex condition.

Besides his obvious competitive talent, the Qatari has also been able to manage his advantage wisely, avoiding any unnecessary risk while keeping an eye on Loeb from a distance. 

During the last days of the Dakar 2022, he calculated his every move so as to achieve his sole objective: To win his fourth title. For this reason, he was prepared to relinquish nearly 4-5 minutes a day during the final days, a calculated loss with Loeb always at a safe distance behind. 

Also, his great rivals from Audi were knocked out of the title bid early on in the competition. Carlos Sainz’s navigation problems and Stephane Peterhansel’s accident gave away with Audi’s title hopes.

Audi: A bad start and a brilliant and hopeful ending  

Audi managed to recover after a very disappointing start. Carlos Sainz lost more than 2 hours at the first stage, falling to 47th place. Meanwhile, that same day, the other star of the German team, Stephane Peterhansel would lose over 23 hours following a serious issue on the rear axle of his vehicle, which pushed him back to 48th place.

The latter two winners of the desert Rally had thus run out of options to revalidate their crowns at the very beginning of the 2022 edition. A complete disaster!

A defective shock absorber in the RS Q-etron made things even worst during that first week of competition. But then, in the midst of the disaster there was a ray of hope. Sainz took his 40th stage win and the first electric car to win in the desert on the third stage. 

Once all technical problems had been solved after the rest day, Mattias Ekström added the second victory for Audi on the eighth day and only two days after that, Peterhansel and Sainz took a 1-2. After that the Spaniard conquered his second special and fourth for the Ingolstadt team. 

Images of Nasser Al-Attiyah: Toyota Gazoo Racing.

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