BISHA, Saudi Arabia – Sam Sunderland took back the top spot in the bike race on stage 11 around the 345km Bisha bivouac of the Dakar Rally on Thursday.
If the GasGas Factory rider can hold his position on tomorrow’s final stage, he’ll be the first rider to win the Dakar bike race with two different brands since the legendary Richard Sainct did it two decades ago. Pablo Quintanilla remains six minutes, 52 seconds out of Sunderland’s lead.
“We were expecting a difficult stage today and that’s what we got,” Sunderland said. “My focus was on pushing all day and I could feel myself making up time in the dunes. This race is not done until you cross that checkered flag on the last day so tomorrow I’ll just do my best again.”
Among those looking to keep the pressure on Sunderland all the way to the finish is Matthias Walkner. The leading Red Bull KTM Factory Racing biker at this Dakar can give the Austrian manufacturer their first win since the rally moved to Saudi Arabia.
Nasser Al-Attiyah may be on the brink of another Dakar title, but that doesn’t mean he can relax on stage 12. Sébastien Loeb is 33 minutes, 19 seconds off the pace, within distance if Al-Attiyah should encounter problems.
“Every day my team gives me a good car and we have confidence in each other to finish the job,” Al-Attiyah said. “To control the Dakar is not easy and we are using all of our experience.”
A superb second week for Audi Sport continued with a third stage win in four days as three-time Dakar winner Carlos Sainz set the fastest time in the car category. It’s a 41st Dakar stage win for El Matador and a fourth for the Audi RS Q e-tron on its debut appearance at the world’s toughest rally.
“It was a difficult stage with quite a bit of dust,” Sainz said. “We had dunes and camel grass. It was the most complete stage we have had so far. I was happy with how managed the stage.”
Over in the Rally2 bike race Camille Chapelière (FRA) is on for a podium finish. After another brave ride today, the Frenchman is second overall in the Rally2 standings.
On course to complete her 12th consecutive Dakar tomorrow is Laia Sanz. For this edition of the rally Sanz made the switch from bikes to cars, the transition between the two Dakar categories has been seamless.
Seth Quintero, meanwhile, now has the record for stage wins at a single Dakar all for himself. Clocking the fastest T3 time on stage 11 puts Quintero on 11 stage wins at Dakar, one clear of the previous record set by Pierre Lartigue in 1994.
“We’ve had 12 days of racing and we’ve picked up 11 stage wins,” Quintero said. “Each day has been an adventure and we’ve just been taking it stage by stage. My co-driver Dennis has been doing a fantastic job and I think I’ve been doing alright myself.”
Friday’s 12th and final stage of the rally will feature 163km of timed racing between Bisha and Jeddah.