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Leaders look over their shoulders as Stage 11 steers the Dakar Rally into the home straight

The penultimate day of the 2024 Dakar Rally was not for the feint-hearted as a huge stage measuring 480 kilometres stood between AlUla and Yanbu. Hard charging challengers went on the attack and some hit their target while others saw their dreams of glory go up in smoke. Stage 11 was another brutal day of extreme endurance racing over some of the most perilous terrain that Saudi Arabia has to offer.

Story of Stage 11: So near yet still so far away

After finishing the last two editions of the Dakar as runner-up in the Ultimate class, there was no hiding Sébastien Loeb’s ambition for this rally – he wanted that elusive win. Stage 11 looked like his last chance to reel in race leader Carlos Sainz, but unfortunately for Loeb his challenge came to a standstill due to damaged suspension on his Prodrive Hunter. By the end of the stage Loeb had slipped to third overall, closer to falling off the final podium rather than topping it.
“It was a difficult stage for us for sure. We lost more than one hour sitting on a rock at the beginning of the stage. We thought that it was completely finished for us. Finally we were lucky that Yungang Zi came by in his Hunter and had the spare parts that we needed. We took the parts, made the repairs and started again.” – Sébastien Loeb
Loeb’s misfortunate meant that for most of the day Lucas Moraes sat in second place overall. That was until misfortune struck the Brazilian and he tumbled down the timesheets to end the day placed ninth in the general classification.
“It was a tough day, it’s hard to lose second like that or even third place. The upper arm broke and I don’t know how, it’s never happened on this car before. We were just cruising because we knew Loeb was behind. The lesson at the Dakar is that you’ve always got to go to the finish to get a good result. It’s such a shame and I’m sorry for the team.” – Lucas Moraes
While the Dakar demonstrated to Loeb and Moraes just how cruel it can be, the rally has so far been smiling on Sainz. The Spaniard starts tomorrow’s final stage – a 175-kilometre loop around the Yanbu bivouac – with a cushion of nearly one hour and a half at the front of the Ultimate race. Team Audi Sport frontrunner Sainz has been ably supported by fellow Audi RS Q e-tron drivers Stéphane Peterhansel and Mattias Ekström during the Dakar’s second week.
“We still have 170 kilometres to go and I know very well that especially at this rally that you must concentrate until the very end.” – Carlos Sainz
Looking to hold onto his spot as the driver closest to Sainz in the general rankings tomorrow is Guillaume de Mévius who got past both Loeb and Moraes today. Second place on his Ultimate class debut would be a remarkable result for the Belgian who is less than half the age of Sainz and clearly has a bright future at the Dakar ahead of him.
“At the end we’re happy to be here with only one day left. We will see what’s going on behind and in front of us tomorrow.” – Guillaume de Mévius
Astara driver Laia Sanz is not only hitting her target of a Top 20 finish by currently sitting 17th overall, but she’s also has the third fastest two-wheel drive car in the race.
Expect to see the Toyota Gazoo Racing pair of Seth Quintero and Giniel de Villiers on the attack tomorrow as they both try to finish an extremely tricky Dakar with a solid Stage 12 result.
Success at the Dakar has not come easy for Mitch Guthrie Jr. since he joined the convoy. His first two attempts at the toughest rally in the world ended prematurely and illness prevented him from taking to the start line after that. Last year the 27-year-old finished 23rd in the Challenger class despite winning five stages. 12 months later Guthrie Jr. leads the Challenger race in the Taurus T3 Max that he helped to develop and is one stage away from becoming a Dakar winner.
“I just wanted to get to the finish because we’ve got a really good lead in the overall. The biggest thing is to finish and I knew that we were putting ourselves into a good position for the final day. Unfortunately we got one puncture and that set us back but that was it.” – Mitch Guthrie Jr.
Going into tomorrow’s final stage with podium spots to protect are Cristina Gutiérrez and Rokas Baciuška who sit second and third respectively. Look out for fourth placed Chaleco López applying pressure to Baciuška on the final stage with less than four minutes separating them overnight.
“The stage was tough, every time stony, stony, stony. We did a good job and we moved into third in the general. I hope we can survive one more day. The target for today was to bring the car home in one piece.” – Cristina Gutiérrez
There will be no repeat of the final stage drama we saw at the 2023 Dakar between Red Bull KTM Factory Racing riders Kevin Benavides and Toby Price. A year ago these two were separated by less than a minute as they crossed the final finish line. This time around it’s hard to see anyone getting close to race leader Ricky Brabec and his Honda before it’s all over.
“Honestly I tried to push a lot today but we need to work on the set up of the bike in the stony places. I’ve done my best so I’m satisfied with that. Maybe the result is not the best but it’s like this. One more day to go so we will keep pushing.” – Kevin Benavides
Looking to finish on a high after a bruising Dakar are Husqvarna rider Luciano Benavides and Red Bull GasGas Factory Racing biker Daniel Sanders.
“It was another day on the jackhammer. Every day on the bike is making the body slowly fall apart. Every time we get into the stones the pain is instant, I could barely hold onto the throttle for the last 50 kilometres.” – Daniel Sanders
Race organisers have promised no nasty surprises for tomorrow’s Stage 12 finale. The timed special stage of 175 kilometres will take place on the outskirts of Yanbu before the winners, plus every other competitor who has managed to cross the finish line, will be honoured at a podium ceremony on the shoreline of the Rea Sea.