Nasser, Sanders to start Dakar in pole position

Baragwanath, Lategan, Cox star in prologue 2022 prologue

Qatari triple Dakar winner Nasser Al Attiyah and Matthieu Baumel's Toyota Gazoo Racing Hilux will start the 2022 Dakar Rally Saudi Arabia in pole position among the cars as South Africans starred in Saturday’s prologue. Gas Gas rider Daniel Sanders meanwhile earned first choice of starting position among the bikes on Sunday, after SA rookie Bradley Cox starred on his first Dakar appearance.

Saturday’s short 19 kilometre special stage separated two parts of the 595 km route from Jeddah to H’ail to determine the starting order of Sunday’s first real day of racing. But while it still counted as an official Dakar day carrying all the kudos for the winners, many believe that there was little sandbagging as favourites jockeyed for position, with the day's top 10 allowed to choose their ideal Sunday starting positions for the first time this year.

Al Attiyah and Baumel’ took the provisional prologue car win, earning them first choice on Sunday's starting order. Spanish triple Dakar winner Carlos Sainz Sr. and Lucas Cruz had an encouraging start, 12 seconds adrift in their petrol-electric Audi Sport RS Q e-tron, before former South African quad star Brian Baragwanath and Leonard Cremer put their SA-built Century CR6 into a stunning  third.

They pushed triple SA Cross Country champion Henk Lategan and Brett Cummings down to fourth in the second Toyota Gazoo Racing Hilux, ahead of 9-time World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb and Fabian Lurquin's BRX Hunter and Saudi home hero Yazeed Al-Rajhi and Michael Orr's Hilux. Multiple bike and ’14 car winner Nani Roma and Alex Bravo’s BRX Hunter was seventh from Giniel de Villiers and Dennis Murphy in their Gazoo Hilux.

Of the South African car competitors, Shameer Variawa and Danie Stassen's Toyota Gazoo Racing Hilux was provisionally 22nd, two places clear of Taye Perry riding with multiple bike winner Cyril Despres in their Peugeot 3008. The trio of Century CR6s in Chris Visser and Rodney Burke, Schalk Burger and Henk Janse van Vuuren and Ernest Roberts and Henry Kohne’s hands, and navigator Ryan Bland’s WCT Red-Lined VK50, were yet to finish.

Young Dakar bike rookie Bradley Cox caused something of a sensation when he topped the leaderboard for much of the bike stage, which started in reverse order, on his private KTM. Son of Dakar bike legend Alfie, Brad ended a fine fifteenth once the Dakar big guns were done, as Aussie Sanders took a debut stage win for Gas Gas, from Argentine Pablo Quintanilla on a Honda and Botswana’s multiple South African champion Ross Branch's Yamaha.

KTM duo, Argentine 2021 winner Kevin Benavides and Matthias Walkner were next up from Frenchman Adrien Van Beveren’s Yamaha. Of the Southern African bikers, Aaron Mare’s Hero came home 20th and rookie Charan Moore had a good run to 44th. Five places ahead of Botswana rider John Kelly. Stuart Gregory was 77th, while Mozambican Paulo Oliveira, Werner Kennedy and Swazi rider Walter Terblanche enjoyed clean runs to the finish too.

First away Saturday morning, Argentine Manuel Andujar took the quad prologue win from Chilean Giovanni Enrico and Frenchman Alexandre Giroud’s similar Yamahas. The Side by Sides, UTVs and trucks were still to complete the Dakar prologue at the time of writing.

409 machines started the Dakar Saturday including 89 cars, 144 bikes, of which 33 race in the Original ‘malle moto’ no-service crew class, 95 UTVs and Side by Sides, 20 quads and 56 trucks. Sunday’s sandy 181 km Stage 1B is a loop around H’ail that promises to test the navigators.