Dakar Rally 2024: CAR's week one round-up

Published: 15 January 2024 Updated: 15 January 2024

Audi driver Sainz holds a 20-minute lead
Favourite Al-Attiyah out of contention
Early leader Al-Rajhi crashes

Team Audi Sport’s Carlos Sainz leads the 2024 Dakar Rally by 20 minutes after the first six stages of the Saudi Arabian event in his Audi RS Q e-tron E2. He heads teammate Mattias Ekström while Sébastien Loeb is third, a further nine minutes in arrears in his Bahrain Raid Extreme-entered Prodrive Hunter.

It’s been a low-key performance from Sainz, indeed he hasn’t yet won a stage. But the Spaniard has shown the consistency that took him to two World Rally Championship titles. He briefly topped the standings after Stage 2, losing the lead the following day to local hero Yazeed Al-Rajhi, who became the first Saudi ever to lead the Dakar. A huge crash in the first part of Stage 6 put Al-Rajhi out of the race and Sainz moved back into the overall lead.

Ekström showed early pace, winning the prologue stage. Since then, he’s had a couple of days blighted by punctures, but he’s capitalised on rivals’ issues to hold second overall. Audi’s third driver, Stéphane Peterhansel has had a luckless run, hydraulic issues on Stage 6 consigning him to 18th place.

Sébastien Loeb’s run to third has been far from straightforward. He’s claimed two stage wins but punctures have made life difficult – a recurrent theme for the Hunter. He took a tactical time penalty on Stage 5 to gain a favourable starting position for Stage 6, a move that paid off as he took a measured win from Sainz by two minutes.

Audi RS Q e-tron E2

Pre-event favourite Nasser Al-Attiyah was taking it relatively easy as he acclimatised to the Prodrive Hunter, entered under his Nasser Racing banner. He took a first win of the event on Stage 5 but mechanical issues on Stage 6 have cost him nearly three hours and any hope of a third consecutive Dakar Rally title.

Stage 6 was a new innovation for the 2024 edition of the Dakar. Billed the Chrono stage, it was split into two parts over Thursday and Friday, looping through the Empty Quarter – the world’s largest sand dessert. Competitors raced until 4pm on Thursday then drove to the nearest of seven campsites in the dunes, before continuing to the finish line on Friday.

Bahrain Raid Xtreme's French driver Sebastien Loeb and his Belgian co-driver Fabian Lurquin on Stage 8 of the 2024 Dakar Rally (Getty)

Lucas Moraes leads the Toyota effort in fourth place. He’s another driver relying on consistency rather than outright speed, though winning Stage 3 showed he’s as fast anyone in his Toyota Gazoo Racing Hilux. Fifth placed Guillaume de Mevius has made a fine T1+ category debut in a privateer Overdrive Hilux, the T3 graduate winning Stage 1.

By contrast, 21-year-old California Seth Quintero’s first attempt at the T1+ category has been rather challenging. He’s borne the brunt of the works Toyota team’s misfortune and currently lies 45th in the standings with over 35 hours of penalties added to his time.

Audi RS Q e-tron E2 carving through desert

Perma-smiling Eryk Goczal leads the T3 prototype buggies. The 19-year-old theme park scion has been in command from the off in his Taurus Max, entered by the Goczal family’s Energylandia team. Indeed, he’s so fast he lies fifth in the combined T1/T3 standings. Last year’s T3 winner Mitchell Guthrie is second in the category, over an hour behind, while Red Bull’s Cristina Gutierrez is third.

The truck category is a battle between the Dutch and Czech drivers. Janus van Kesteren dominated the first five stages in his Team De Rooy Iveco, but the heavy plant dealer suffered mechanical issues on Stage 6 that cost him over two-and-a-half hours. He’s been replaced at the top by Martin Macik, who’s taken two stage wins in another Iveco run by his own MM Technology team. Ales Loprais lies second his self-developed, Iveco-based Praga, while 21-year old Mitchel van den Brink is third in the Eurol Rallysport Iveco.  

Works Honda man Ricky Brabec leads the bikes after Stage 6, moving ahead of erstwhile leader Ross Branch. The popular Botswanan – known as the Kalahari Ferrari – won Stage 1 on his Hero machine but a nine-minute delay on Stage 6 was enough to cost him the lead, albeit by just 51 seconds.

Audi RS Q e-tron E2 in dunes

The Dakar Rally competitors enjoyed their traditional rest day on Saturday while the entire caravan, including 3,000 vehicles and around 10,000 personnel, was airlifted halfway across Saudi Arabia to the capital of Riyadh. The action resumed on Sunday 13 January and ends on Friday 19 January.

While some of the category leaders hold advantages that look unassailable, nothing can be taken for granted. There’s still over 2300km of competitive driving ahead and literally anything could happen. We’ll bring you a report rounding up the results after the finish.

By Graham King

Senior Staff Writer for Parkers. Car obsessive, magazine and brochure collector, trivia mine.