There was no shortage of drama spread across the 12 stages of the Dakar Rally 2021 as competitors battled mountainous sand dunes under the glare of the unforgiving desert sun. As always, the race was much more than the sum of its parts.
Stéphane Peterhansel’s 14th win at the Dakar tore up the record books. The Frenchman led the rally from the second stage and now has eight victories behind the wheel of a car to add to the six wins he claimed in the bike category. Peterhansel stands alone as the biggest winner in a single category thanks to his eight car victories. The legendary Frenchman had previously shared that record with Vladimir Chagin who won the truck race seven times for KAMAZ. Peterhansel said, “For sure, it is one or two more records for me – 14 victories on three continents, and also on the anniversary of my first victory 30 years ago today.”
Although Nasser Al-Attiyah eventually had to settle for second place overall, he did manage to make some history of his own. The threetime Dakar winner is now the only competitor in the rally’s history to win at least one stage at 14 consecutive editions.
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 the first stage of the contest to become the first female stage winner since Jutta Kleinschmidt’s last stage win in 2005.
More history was made when Gutiérrez’s team-mate, Seth Quintero, won the sixth stage. Later that day he found out in the bivouac he was the youngest-ever Dakar stage winner. The 18-year-old rookie doubled down on his historic achievement by winning Stage 11 as well.
Quintero said, “We came out swinging and proved our point that we’re here to stay. 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.
Nasser Al-Attiyah had to settle for second place overall, but is now the only competitor in the rally’s history to win at least one stage in 14 consecutive races.
The worst stage result for truck driver Dmitry Sotnikov came on day 11 when he finished fourth. The Russian finished in the top three on every other stage and it was that consistency which handed him his first Dakar win. Sotnikov became the seventh different Team KAMAZ Master driver to win the Dakar as he delivered the team its 18th title.
Sotnikov said: “I just have no words, only emotions. 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 made it five wins on the bounce for KAMAZ, a feat it 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 68 of those machines had already retired.
Completing the entire 7646km loop through Saudi Arabia, starting and finishing at Jeddah and including 4767km 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.
The worst stage result for truck driver Dmitry Sotnikov came on day 11 when he finished fourth. The Russian finished in the top three on every other stage.