© Marcelo Maragni/Red Bull Content Pool
Dakar 2021 was all drama and we have the numbers to back it up
With the 43rd edition of the Dakar wrapped up, we dig into the remarkable facts and figures behind the latest running of the world’s toughest rally.
There really is nothing else on the planet like the Dakar Rally and this latest edition was truly unforgettable for a number of reasons. On the rally’s second trip to Saudi Arabia a completely new course was devised that put the convoy on a punishing 8,000km loop, starting and finishing in Jeddah.
There was no shortage of drama spread across the 12 stages as competitors battled mountainous sand dunes under the glare of the unforgiving desert sun. As always, the Dakar Rally was much more than the sum of its parts…
The only place to start is with Monsieur Dakar himself, Stéphane Peterhansel. His 14th win at the Dakar tore up the record books. The Frenchman led the rally from Stage 2 and now has eight victories behind the wheel of a car to add to the six wins he claimed in the bike category.
Peterhansel now stands alone as the biggest winner in a single category thanks to his eight car race wins. The legendary Frenchman had previously shared that record with Vladimir Chagin who won the truck race seven times for KAMAZ.
“For sure, it is one or two more records for me,” Peterhansel said at the finish line. “14 victories on three continents and also on the anniversary of my first victory 30 years ago today.”
Peterhansel and co-driver Edouard Boulanger were chased through the desert by Nasser Al-Attiyah. Although the Qatari driver eventually had to settle for second place overall, he did manage to make some history of his own. The three-time Dakar winner is now the only competitor in the rally’s history to win at least one stage at 14 consecutive editions.
In 2019 we witnessed the last edition of the Dakar to be contested in South America and there was a familiar look to the final standings in the bike race. The podium had been locked out by Red Bull KTM Factory Racing. Toby Price had his second title, 2018 winner Matthias Walkner was in second and 2017 champion Sam Sunderland was third overall.
All doubts about how KTM would survive without the riding talents of Cyril Despres and Marc Coma had been answered. The team’s consecutive winning streak stretched over 18 editions of the Dakar, all the way back to 2001.
This is the most difficult Dakar I ever did
So what’s 1987 got to do with anything? Well that was the last time Honda had secured a 1-2 finish at the Dakar… until they did it again in 2021 thanks to winner Kevin Benavides and second placed Ricky Brabec. That’s two wins on the trot for Honda since they brought KTM’s winning run to a halt.
“The guys in front did a great job, congratulations to them,” Sunderland said at the finish line. “This is the most difficult Dakar I ever did. Really long stages, dunes, stones, riverbeds, mountains… everything you can imagine.”
18 years (and 118 days) old
New for the 2021 Dakar was the introduction of the Lightweight Vehicles category, grouping together T3 side-by-side machines and T4 UTVs on a single leaderboard. Cristina Gutiérrez of the Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team won Stage 1 of the contest to become the first female stage winner since Jutta Kleinschmidt’s last stage win in 2005.
We came out swinging and proved our point that we’re here to stay
More history was made when Gutiérrez’s team-mate Seth Quintero’s won Stage 6. Later that day he found out in the bivouac that he was now the youngest-ever stage winner at the Dakar. The 18-year-old rookie doubled down on his historic achievement by winning Stage 11 as well.
“We came out swinging and proved our point that we’re here to stay,” said Quintero after completing his debut Dakar. “The Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team is not a team to be messed with. We’ll be back next year and we’ll be back better.”
Coming out on top overall in the Lightweight Vehicles category were Chaleco López and co-driver Juan Pablo Latrach Vinagre who picked up five stage victories of their own.
The worse stage result for truck driver Dmitry Sotnikov at this Dakar came on day 11 when he finished fourth. The Russian finished in the Top 3 on every other stage and it was that consistency that handed him his first Dakar win. Sotnikov became the seventh different Team KAMAZ-master driver to win the Dakar as he delivered them their 18th title.
I’m proud of all the guys
“I just have no words, only emotions,” Sotnikov said as his victory was confirmed. “We have been moving towards this victory for several years, gradually approaching it. And now I’m very happy, I’m proud of all the guys.”
Sotnikov was joined on the overall podium by team-mates Anton Shibalov and Ayrat Mardeev, who finished second and third respectively. The victory makes it five wins on the bounce for KAMAZ, a feat they last achieved between 2002 and 2006.
A total of 310 vehicles lined up on the start line of the 2021 Dakar. The number was comprised of 108 bikes, 67 cars, 58 UTVs, 42 trucks, 26 classics and 21 quads. By the rest day we had already lost 68 of those machines.
Completing the entire 7,646km loop from Jeddah and back – including 4,767km of timed special stages – were a grand total of 206 vehicles. 104 race vehicles dropped out before the finish, with 19 re-entering the rally under Dakar Experience rules.