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Stage 5 brings the 2024 Dakar Rally into the jaws of the Empty Quarter’s desert dunes

Story via Red Bull Desert Wings

A short and sweet Stage Five has delivered the 2024 Dakar Rally convoy to the Empty Quarter desert. Today’s 118-kilometre chain of dunes came after a monstrous liaison section in excess of 500 kilometres. What awaits tomorrow is the all-new 48-hour Chrono Stage, a two-stages-in-one deal that will see competitors cover a timed special stage of 584 kilometres over two days with a night spent camped out on the dunes thrown in for good measure.

Story of Stage Five: Landing on the dunes
While many in the Ultimate class exercised caution on Stage Five there was a different tactic deployed by defending Dakar champion Nasser Al-Attiyah. The Qatari put his foot down to take his first-ever stage win in his new Prodrive Hunter car, the seventh vehicle that Al-Attiyah has now scored at least one Dakar stage win in.
“Today I knew I needed to win the stage. Tomorrow is 600 kilometres and I don’t care if I open. Maybe I will lose some time, but the important thing is to finish the long stage that’s coming.” – Nasser Al-Attiyah
Among the challenges to come for the four-wheel categories on the next two days are a lack of bike tracks for them to follow as FIA and FIM entrants follow separate courses. This may have influenced the thinking of Carlos Sainz who slowed down on the stage to ensure a favourable starting position for tomorrow.
“I think we need to wait two days more until we find out who has the best strategy for the next stage.” – Carlos Sainz
It’s local racer Yazeed Al Rajhi who still leads the Ultimate class with Al-Attiyah nine minutes behind. Sainz in third overall is a further 2m28s behind Al-Attiyah.
Sainz’s fellow Audi RS Q e-tron driver Mattias Ekström is now fourth overall and 14-time Dakar winner Stéphane Peterhansel makes it three Team Audi Sport members in the Top 6.
“Today was a strange day because the stage was a lot shorter than what we have been used to. Now we know that the next two days will be a lot of dunes and with no lines of the motorbikes to follow.” – Stéphane Peterhansel
It was a troubled day for Toyota GR DKR Hilux driver Lucas Moraes who felt unwell during the stage and needed to summon all his strength to reach the finish line.
“We were doing good until halfway through the stage. Then I started to feel really bad motion sickness and then we rolled the car. After that I felt even more sick but we managed to get the car going again. We survived the day and now we will keep going.” – Lucas Moraes
Moraes’s Toyota Gazoo Racing team-mate Seth Quintero got back in the race after being towed out of yesterday’s stage.
“The mechanics didn’t finish with the car until 5am this morning after the trouble we had yesterday. Then I left for the stage at 7am. It’s a pretty impressive feat to still be in this thing.” – Seth Quintero
There was a contrast in tactics between Sébastien Loeb and those of Toyota drivers Giniel de Villiers and Guillaume de Mévius. While Loeb deliberately held back, both De Villiers and De Mévius were just a few minutes behind stage winner Al-Attiyah.
“The plan was to hang back so we would have a good starting position for tomorrow. We lost time today in the hope of winning big time tomorrow.” – Sébastien Loeb
Also securing a late start for tomorrow is Laia Sanz in her Astara machine, the Spaniard currently sits in 17th overall.
“It was a good day for us. We took it easy because there were a lot of cut dunes and we wanted to stay safe. Now we’re ready for a really long day tomorrow.” – Laia Sanz
Just as Al-Attiyah chose today to show his hand in the Ultimate class it was also the day chosen by Chaleco López to collect his first stage win of the year. The multiple Dakar champion across the lightweight divisions is famed for his sand racing skills and they were on show on Stage Five.
“This was a good day, the first good day for me at this year’s rally. Nothing bad happened to us today so I’m very happy.” – Chaleco López
López was followed home by fellow Can-Am driver Austin ‘AJ’ Jones as race leader Eryk Goczal was pushed down into third on the stage.
“It was good to have 118km of nothing but dunes today to get us ready for what’s coming on the 48-hour Chrono Stage. At the end we got caught by our team-mate Chaleco López and followed him home.” – Austin Jones
Eryk Goczal’s closest competitor in the general classification remains his father Marek, then comes Mitch Guthrie Jr. 39m46s back in third overall after being hit with a 17-minute time penalty yesterday.
López and Jones as well as Taurus T3 Max driver Cristina Gutiérrez are all just over an hour back from Eryk Goczal in the overall rankings. All three will be hoping they can make some big gains during the next couple of days which promises to be packed with unpredictability.
“We started very late because yesterday we had problems. We’re quite happy with today’s stage because we got through all the dangerous places where the dunes are quite sharp.” – Cristina Gutiérrez
11th place on today’s Challenger stage puts local favourite Dania Akeel in 12th overall as the Saudi Arabian racer looks to beat her Dakar PB of eighth fastest T3 to cross the final finish line.
Defending Bike race champion Kevin Benavides continues to defy the odds as he keeps pace with the leaders despite having broken a tibia bone last month. After five stages Kevin Benavides is 21m17s behind race leader Ross Branch.
“Tomorrow is the start of the big Marathon Stage so we need to focus on that.” – Kevin Benavides
Kevin’s younger brother Luciano Benavides is less than ten minutes behind him after escaping a scary finish to today’s stage which saw his engine repeatedly cutting out.
“I’ve got an issue with my engine or something. Luckily I could finish the stage, but in the last 5k the bike stopped three or four times.” – Luciano Benavides
Toby Price rode his KTM to third on the stage and one place behind him was fellow Australian Daniel Sanders on his GasGas machine. Both riders are over half an hour behind Branch and will be doing all they can to make a massive move on the two-day loop around the Shubaytah bivouac.
“It was a short, hot and fast stage today. It was good to survive this stage. Our starting position for tomorrow isn’t looking too bad and the feeling on the bike was better today.” – Daniel Sanders
Without a doubt the most anticipated section of this year’s Dakar Rally route is the 48-hour Chrono Stage that starts tomorrow morning. The convoy will set off from the Shubaytah bivouac to meet the 250-metre-high sand dunes of the Empty Quarter desert. At 4pm competitors will cease racing for the day and make their way to the closest of six mini bivouacs that will be positioned throughout the 584km special stage.
Tomorrow evening racers will be cut off from their teams under marathon stage rules and forced to make any necessary repairs themselves using whatever tools they have to hand. Crucially, competitors will also be separated from their rivals with no way of knowing if they are losing or gaining time on the pack.
After a night camping out in the desert, the remaining part of the 584km special must be completed before hopefully reaching the sanctuary of the Rest Day bivouac in Riyadh sometime on Friday, January 12.
Chris Leone

A veteran of the motorsports industry (both physical and digital), Chris Leone contributes coverage of race events of all types to Off-Road Racer. Elsewhere, he is the marketing/communications manager at iRacing, media director of Jim Beaver's Down & Dirty Show, and a frequent contributor to UTV Underground.

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