Dakar 2023: Al-Attiyah stays in front, more drama for Audi on Stage 7

Toyota’s Nasser Al-Attiyah remains in the lead of the 2023 Dakar Rally following the seventh stage on Saturday, while Audi endured another day to forget in Saudi Arabia.

Dakar 2023: Al-Attiyah stays in front, more drama for Audi on Stage 7

With the stage for bikes and quads cancelled due to weather conditions, Al-Attiyah had to open the road in the 333km special between Riyadh and Al Duwadimi in his Toyota Hilux.

Carrying a lead of more than an hour into the day, and with external assistance prohibited as part of the ‘marathon’ rules that cover both stages 7 and 8, the Qatari driver played it safe in his bid to defend his title, setting a time that provisionally put him 14th in the order.

With his closest rival and Toyota team-mate Henk Lategan doing no better than sixth himself and making up little time, Al-Attiyah will take an advantage of 1hr04m00s into the second half of the rally on Sunday.

With several frontrunners finishing out of place, the day’s honours went to Overdrive’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi, who claimed a resounding victory on home turf by nearly nine minutes over Teltonika Racing’s Vaidotoas Zala. 

Al-Rajhi and GCK Motorsport’s Guerlain Chicherit dueled for the lead early on in Saturday’s special, both trading the times at the top of the order as they passed through various checkpoints.

Former DTM star Mattias Ekstrom then asserted his authority by jumping the duo at the fifth checkpoint located 196km into the stage, but disaster struck just a few kilometres later when his Audi came to a halt with a mechanical problem.

Teammate Carlos Sainz had to stop on track to provide assistance and neither driver had made it to the finish at the time of writing, in what was another blow to the German manufacturer's second campaign in the world's toughest rally-raid.

Ekstrom was already left as Audi’s only real contender after a punishing sixth stage on Friday that saw Sainz retire following a crash and Stephane Peterhansel completely withdraw from the rally following injuries to his co-driver Edouard Boulanger in a separate incident.

#211 Team Audi Sport Audi: Mattias Ekstrom, Emil Bergkvist, #207 Team Audi Sport Audi: Carlos Sainz, Lucas Cruz

#211 Team Audi Sport Audi: Mattias Ekstrom, Emil Bergkvist, #207 Team Audi Sport Audi: Carlos Sainz, Lucas Cruz

Photo by: A.S.O.

With an Audi comeback now completely out of the question, Toyota continues to hold a 1-2-3-4 lead in the overall standings, with factory duo Al-Attiyah and Lategan followed by Overdrive’s Lucas Moraes and Giniel de Villiers in the final works Hilux.

World Rally legend Loeb has now taken the position of the best non-Toyota in the running following Ekstrom’s troubles, although he trails Al-Attiyah by 1hr54m07s in the general classification in fifth after a troubled run so far in his seventh appearance in Dakar.

The Bahrain Raid Xtreme driver finished only ninth in Saturday’s stage, six places behind Chicherit, who was driving the same Prodrive-built Hunter as him.

Le Mans 24 Hours winner Romain Dumas has moved up to sixth overall in his Rebellion entry, ahead of Brian Baragwanath (Century), Martin Prokop (Benzina), Wei Han (Hanwei) and Lionel Baud (Overdrive).

Classification after Stage 7:

Position

Driver

Car

Time / gap

1

Nasser Al-Attiyah

Toyota

27hr26m23s 

2

Henk Lategan

Toyota

+1hr01m04s

3

Lucas Moraes

Toyota

+1hr11m24s

4

Giniel de Villiers

Toyota

+1hr36m47s

5

Sebastien Loeb

Prodrive

+1hr54m17s

6

Romain Dumas

Rebellion

+2hr12m30s

7

Brian Baragwanath

Century

+2hr14m40s

8

Martin Prokop

Benzina

+2hr17m26s

9

Wei Han

SMG +2hr51m38s

10

Lionel Baud

Toyota

+3hr17m59s

 

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