The first fiercely competitive motorsport of the calendar year is also one of the toughest events because it is nothing but the Dakar. It has been an unpredictable turn of events this time too, like every year, with absolutely no one being able to convincingly put their money on a name. The El-Matador Carlos Sainz raced to the top of the podium to take the top honours for Dakar 2018, eight years after his last Dakar win in 2010.
But this wasn’t an easy win at all! Sebastien Loeb started as one of the favourites this season along with Nasser Al-Attiyah and Nani Roma. But the WRC legend, in his quest to chase down the leaders after his first stage win this year, crashed out in the fourth stage in the Tanaka dunes even when Nani Roma had ended his campaign as early as Pisco.
Nasser Al-Attiyah, who had started with a couple of stage wins in the first five stages suffered repeated mechanical issues, which made him lose precious minutes in key stages and almost an hour in one stage pushing him on the back foot every time. But the two-time Dakar champion showed his true grit and class when he never went off the attack mode even in the final stages of the race when it was almost certain that he will finish runner up.
Mr Dakar, Stephane Peterhansel, has been a part of the lead group hunting down the South American terrain in pack with his teammates Cyril Despres, Carlos Sainz and Sebastien Loeb. After Loeb’s exit, Peterhansel led the group from the front with quite a few challenges from Despres and the measure approach of Sainz. Just past the half-way mark, Peterhansel made a mistake while trying to swerve away from a stuck quad driver in a fast section which cost him the Dakar 2018.
Peterhansel lost almost two hours repairing his car and cannibalised most of Cyril Despres car, who sacrificed his Dakar dreams this year for the team. Despres’ display of talent and heart has been one of the highlights of Dakar 2018 and the ace driver will certainly fancy his chances of winning in the years to come.
Bernhard Ten Brinke, the second Toyota Gazoo Racing driver, had been holding Toyota’s fort with Nasser Al-Attiyah till the penultimate stage, carrying steady pace with occasional dashes of brilliant pace to stay in the top four. Giniel De Villers, the South African driver, who has been largely side-lined by the performance of these two leading Toyota drivers, finished third overall. But that was only after he claimed his first stage win for 2018 in the last short stage after being chased by Peterhansel who had to make a lead of just a few minutes to snatch the podium from Toyota.
With only half the participants completing the Dakar 2018, we have to put our hands together for all those privateer participants who have made this Dakar worth its salt with their individual efforts and performances, claiming all the spots in the top-ten except for the top-four. Overdrive Toyota has claimed three of those and Orlen- X-Raid (Mini) finished as the fastest satellite team.
With over 9000kms in just 14 days traversing across the deserts of Peru, the high plains and mountains of Bolivia to the arid expanses of Argentina, the Dakar 2018 has successfully pitted man and machine against the forces of nature and luckily we have had no casualties. We will be back next year, driving you through the gruelling stages of Dakar, saluting the champions at every corner!