2023 Dakar Rally: Nasser Al-Attiyah completes Drive for Five in T1

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Credit: Flavien Duhamel/Red Bull Content Pool

As the defending Dakar Rally winner, Nasser Al-Attiyah was the man to beat on four wheels entering the 2023 edition. Unfortunately for the field, nobody could beat the man.

Al-Attiyah won his fifth Dakar Rally in dominating fashion with over an hour and twenty minutes on the field, scoring a trio of stage wins in the second, fifth, and sixth. Despite finishing outside the top ten in the rain-shortened Stage #3, he assumed the overall lead after Carlos Sainz was struck by a mechanical issue, and never relinquished it from there. The margin was so side, maxing out at 1:27:10 after Stage #12, that Al-Attiyah could afford to lay off the throttle as he did in Stage #7 where he was fourteenth.

Previous victories came in 2011, 2015, and 2019 followed by his back-to-back wins. He first won with Toyota Gazoo Racing in 2019.

“This is an amazing feeling,” said Al-Attiyah. “I have to thank so many people, starting with every member of our team. It was a tough two weeks, but to be able to come back and defend our title is fantastic. I’m really proud of our GR DKR Hilux T1+, and to win the race three times with Toyota Gazoo Racing is truly something special.”

Sébastien Loeb finished runner-up for the second straight year, marking the first time that back-to-back Dakar Rallies had the same finishers in the top two. Although Loeb officially placed 1:20:49 behind Al-Attiyah in the overall, he was the star of the Rally’s second half as he won a record six consecutive stages from #8 through #13. Loeb ended the race with seven total wins, the most since Sainz in 2011.

However, Loeb fell out of overall contention early when tyre punctures and mechanical problems knocked him out in the first three legs. His fellow Prodrive Hunters Guerlain Chicherit, Vaidotas Žala, and Bahrain Raid Xtreme partner Orlando Terranova experienced the same troubles throughout, with Žala and Terranova subsequently exiting the Rally. Chicherit was also briefly knocked unconscious in a Stage #4 crash. Despite the setbacks, Chicherit won the final leg to sneak into tenth in the final classification, and Prodrive took nine of fourteen stages total.

“Cars have become so efficient that they take us to the limits of our bodies. This even went as far as a brief loss of consciousness on landing a jump,” commented Chicherit. “Despite the pain, we managed to score several top five finishes in the second half of the rally, allowing us to made a solid start in the context of the championship.”

Despite not winning, Loeb leads the World Rally-Raid Championship with eighty-seven points to Al-Attiyah’s eighty-five thanks to his seven stage victories. Chicherit sits third with fifty.

“I’m really proud for the job on the car that was really strong,” said Loeb. “We had hardly any problems with the car itself, just the punctures in the first week that were really bad luck as we were trying to take it easy, but those flats lost us more than two hours so to finish second here today is very good considering where we were. We had a very good second part of the rally, we enjoyed it, we had fun in the car as it was so good so it was just brilliant as we could still fight for something and come all the way back to second place. We’ve taken good points for the Championship, taken a new Dakar record with six consecutive stage wins so I’m still happy. For sure I would prefer to win because now it is my third second place but not everybody finishes on this kind of rally.”

True to Loeb’s closing remark, the 2023 Rally had a notoriously high attrition rate as drivers retired at least once or had one too many off-days that allowed Al-Attiyah to pull ahead. This was especially the case for Sainz and his Team Audi Sport allies: after Sainz won Stage #1, he and team-mate Stéphane Peterhansel crashed out five legs later. Sainz suffered another wreck in Stage #9, ending his race for good as he had fractured his T5 and T6 vertebrae. Prologue winner Mattias Ekström was the lone Audi to finish, but his string of exits at the midway point relegated him outside the top ten. Consequently, Ekström stood alone in the T1.U subcategory for upgraded electric vehicles like the Audi RS Q e-tron E2, which controversially received a performance boost only for Al-Attiyah—who was openly critical of the action—to win anyway.

Century Racing brought ten of their CR6 cars to Dakar, but many ended on their roofs like Tim and Tom Coronel, Laia Sanz (in the Astara Concept 01 variant), and Brian Baragwanath. The lattermost drove the upgraded CR6-T as did Mathieu Serradori, who suffered an engine failure on the final stage which prevented him from sealing the T1.2 subcategory win. Michel Kremer‘s CR6 burst into flames after just one stage. Despite their troubles, all but Kremer was able to make the finish.

In addition to Al-Attiyah’s overall, the Toyota Hilux T1+ continued to establish itself as one of the top vehicles in rally raid. Lucas Moraes finished on the podium in his first career Dakar ahead of Al-Attiyah’s Toyota Gazoo Racing allies Giniel de Villiers and Henk Lategan. Moraes is the highest finishing newcomer in the Cars overall since Juha Kankkunen won the 1988 edition. Another Hilux driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi won Stage #7 but it was sandwiched between mechanical problems. His Overdrive Racing colleague Erik van Loon, who was runner-up to Al-Attiyah in Stage #2, bowed out of his final Dakar Rally following a roll and hospitalisation five days later.

Ford Raptor RS racer Martin Prokop was the highest finishing entry not in a Hilux or Hunter in sixth. Prokop arrived at Dakar with an upgraded Raptor nicknamed “Shrek” that débuted at the Rallye du Maroc in October.

Daniel Schröder won the T1.1 subclass for modified T1 4×4 vehicles, finishing twenty-eighth in his Nissan Navara VK50. T1.2, for 4×2 cars, was claimed by the SMG HW2021 of Wei Han, who was eighth overall for the highest-ever Car finish for a Chinese racer.

Forty-four T1 cars finished the race of sixty-four who started.

T1 overall top ten

1200Nasser Al-AttiyahMathieu BaumelToyota Gazoo Racing45:03:15Leader
2201Sébastien LoebFabian LurquinBahrain Raid Xtreme46:24:04+ 1:20:49
3230Lucas MoraesTimo GottschalkOverdrive Racing46:41:46+ 1:38:31
4205Giniel de Villiers*Dennis MurphyToyota Gazoo Racing47:34:27+ 2:31:12
5217Henk Lategan*Brett CummingsToyota Gazoo Racing47:39:38+ 2:36:23
6210Martin ProkopViktor ChytkaORLEN Team48:43:59+ 3:40:44
7220Juan Cruz YacopiniDaniel Oliveras CarrerasOverdrive Racing49:30:24+ 4:27:09
8224Wei HanMa LiHanWei Motorsport49:32:36+ 4:29:21
9209Sebastián HalpernBernardo GraueX-raid Team49:45:53+ 4:42:38
10206Guerlain ChicheritAlex WinocqGCK Motorsport50:25:25+ 5:22:10
* – Not competing in World Rally-Raid Championship

T1 stage winners

Prologue211Mattias EkströmTeam Audi Sport8:00
Stage #1207Carlos SainzTeam Audi Sport3:28:55
Stage #2200Nasser Al-AttiyahToyota Gazoo Racing5:00:26
Stage #3206Guerlain ChicheritGCK Motorsport3:22:57
Stage #4201Sébastien LoebBahrain Raid Xtreme4:11:34
Stage #5200Nasser Al-AttiyahToyota Gazoo Racing4:13:23
Stage #6200Nasser Al-AttiyahToyota Gazoo Racing3:13:12
Stage #7202Yazeed Al-RajhiOverdrive Racing3:06:23
Stage #8201Sébastien LoebBahrain Raid Xtreme3:34:24
Stage #9201Sébastien LoebBahrain Raid Xtreme3:07:24
Stage #10201Sébastien LoebBahrain Raid Xtreme1:48:32
Stage #11201Sébastien LoebBahrain Raid Xtreme2:56:14
Stage #12201Sébastien LoebBahrain Raid Xtreme1:56:21
Stage #13201Sébastien LoebBahrain Raid Xtreme2:26:17
Stage #14206Guerlain ChicheritGCK Motorsport1:09:24

Overall winners

T1200Nasser Al-AttiyahToyota Gazoo Racing45:03:15
T2250Ronald Basso*Team Land Cruiser Toyota Auto Body107:39:42
T3303Austin JonesRed Bull Off-Road Junior Team51:55:53
T4428Eryk GoczałEnergyLandia Rally Team53:10:14
T5502Janus van KasterenBoss Machinery Team de Rooy IVECO54:03:33
RallyGP47Kevin BenavidesRed Bull KTM Factory Racing44:27:20
Rally217Romain DumontierTeam Dumontier Racing47:03:58
Malle Moto40Charan Moore*HT Rally Raid Husqvarna Racing52:24:42
Quad151Alexandre Giroud*Drag’on Rally Team56:44:30
Classic778Juan Morera*Toyota Classic428 points
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