Overdrive Racing’s Al-Rajhi and Gottschalk lead the 46th Dakar Rally after four stages

– 10th-placed De Mévius claims his first stage win in ‘Ultimate’ class
– Krotov, Chicherit, Yacopini and Amos hold 16th, 20th, 23rd and 25th

Overdrive Racing has made a sensational start to its challenge for honours at the 46th Dakar Rally.

After four stages between the start in Al-Ula on January 5th and the night stopover at Al-Hofuf in the Eastern Province on January 9th, the Belgian preparations company led the event outright in a Toyota Hilux, courtesy of local driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi and his German co-driver Timo Gottschalk.

Consistent stage performances by last year’s runner-up in the FIA World Rally-Raid Championship (W2RC) and the second fastest time on the fourth stage have given the Saudi driver a slender 4min 19sec cushion over four-time winner Carlos Sainz before the event heads deep into the remote Empty Quarter for a 48-hour Marathon stage without service assistance.

Al-Rajhi said: « It was a nice stage, lovely and smooth and no real problems for us. We are happy. The car is running well and we are in a good position heading into the next couple of difficult days before the rest day. There is still a long way to go… »

Gottschalk added: « Stage four was a bit easier than the days before but not that easy. It was very high speed all the time and difficult navigation with some dunes at the end and some tricky places. We also had a slow puncture near the end and we changed it afterwards. We could extend our lead a bit and now we need to continue like this! »

Guillaume de Mévius and Xavier Panseri made the near-perfect start to their Dakar campaign with the fastest time on the opening stage that gave them the outright lead in a GR DKR Hilux prepared by Overdrive Racing. They lost a little time on subsequent stages and the Belgian slotted into 10th overall in Al-Hofuf and is well-placed in the ‘Ultimate’ category.

Denis Krotov and Konstantin Zhiltsov guided their Overdrive Racing Toyota into 16th overall. Guerlain Chicherit and Alex Winocq are crewing the sister car to De Mévius and Panseri and overcame punctures and overheating caused by a water cut-off issue on stage three to hold 20th.

Argentina’s Juan-Cruz Yacopini and Spanish co-driver Daniel Oliveras are classified in 23rd, the Italian duo of Eugenio Amos and Paulo Ceci are 25th and Isidre Esteve Pujol and José-Maria Villalobos reached Al-Hofuf in 26th.

The two French pairings of Lionel and Lucie Baud and Ronan Chabot and Gilles Pillot have overcome their fair share of time delays over the opening four days and are listed as 47th and 77th in the unofficial standings.

Toyota Gazoo Racing-entered Toyota GR DKR Hiluxes have also made a strong start to this year’s Dakar Rally. Brazilian driver Lucas Moraes won the third stage – his first ever on the Dakar – and holds fifth overall with Spanish co-driver Armand Monleón.

Talented young American Seth Quintero started well in his new Toyota but was forced to wait for his assistance truck after technical issues on the fourth stage. South African veteran Giniel de Villiers won the event in South America in 2009 and remains in contention for another podium finish in 11th, while fellow countryman Guy Botterill was 12th in his TGR Toyota and Saood Variawa was classified in 29th.

Al-Ula – Al-Hofuf
Action got underway with a 27.11km Prologue close to the event’s start base at Al-Ula. The stage win went to Mattias Ekström, who opened up a 23-second cushion over Toyota Gazoo Racing’s new signing Seth Quintero. Baud headed the Overdrive Racing entrants in eighth, Chicherit was 11th, Chabot and Amos were 22nd and 23rd and De Mévius, Yacopini and Al-Rajhi came home in 32nd, 55th and 59th. Under the new rules, times for the Prologue do not count towards the overall classification.

The first of the desert stages ran southeast for 413.45km between Al-Ula and Al-Henakiyah. De Mévius belied his lowly starting position to set the pace at the head of the field and the Belgian led for most of the stage and eventually crossed the finish line to secure a first ever stage win on the Dakar and a major statement for Overdrive Racing at the start of the event.

De Mévius said: « A great introduction. I’m quite surprised, to be honest; we drove smart and avoided punctures and I think that was the key. But I’m quite surprised to finish so high up. Overall, it’s going well, the car is great, easy to handle, it’s my second race behind the wheel so I’m starting to get some miles with it. And things are going very well with Xavier, it’s very calm in the car, very zen. »

De Villiers was third, Moraes came home sixth and third of the W2RC-registered drivers, Al-Rajhi and Yacopini were eighth and 12th, Chicherit was 19th and Quintero came home in 21st. Baud lost two hours on the stage and slipped down the rankings.

The second stage headed from Al-Henakiyah to Al-Duwadimi and included a demanding special of 461.32km. De Mévius dropped vital minutes opening the road and was passed by several of his rivals with the stage win falling to Stéphane Peterhansel and Sainz snatching the outright lead.

Quintero was third on the day and the fifth quickest time lifted Al-Rajhi into second overall, a mere 1min 51sec behind Sainz. It was another strong day for Toyotas, with Quintero and De Mévius settling into fourth and fifth overall, Moraes and Chicherit holding eighth and 10th and Botterill and De Villiers running inside the top 20. Baud was handed back eight minutes after stopping to assist at the scene of an injured competitor on the opening stage.

Al-Rajhi said: « It wasn’t as stony as yesterday, but navigating was pretty hard. We had to backtrack several times. But we made it and that’s what matters. I was gentle on the car and tyres every time we were on jagged terrain. »

De Mévius finished 19th. He added: « It started well enough, the first 200 kilometres went smoothly. 215km into the special, we made a little mistake, Carlos overtook us, we got caught up in his dust and then we got lost several times before we had a puncture. But here we are. Opening the road was no joke… »

Stage three ran between Al-Duwadimi and Al-Salamiya for 436.76km and included around 40km of difficult sand dunes, a start through stony wadis and a mixture of fast and winding tracks.

De Mévius and Romain Dumas were running at the front of the field in the virtual times until the Belgian stopped for more than 15 minutes after 286km. The main beneficiary was Moraes and the Brazilian managed to claim his first ever stage win for Toyota Gazoo Racing, with Al-Rajhi finishing third and moving into an overall rally lead of 29 seconds.

Moraes held fourth, Quintero, De Mévius, Chicherit and De Villiers were classified in 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th overall, while Krotov settled into 16th.

Moraes said: « It was an unbelievable stage, but I have to give it up to Armand, because the navigation was very tricky and he was on point on everything. We had a good pace and didn’t have any punctures. We even stopped to help Seth (Quintero) – we gave our spare wheel to him so he could finish as well. It was a perfect day. »

After just two hours’ permitted service the previous evening, action resumed with the fourth 299.15km stage between Al-Salamiya to Al-Hofuf in the vast Eastern Province. Al-Rajhi battled it out for the stage win with former team-mate Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and managed to beat the Qatari by 14 seconds to claim maximum W2RC bonus points with Sébastien Loeb eventually grabbing the fastest time.

Tomorrow (Wednesday), the route of the Dakar sweeps south from Al-Hofuf though a tricky passage of 118km and on to a stop over at the remote town of Shubaytah.

The timetable then includes a 48-hour Marathon stage through the vast Empty Quarter. Competitors will be able to help each other with basic repairs and maintenance, although teams will be split between eight different overnight bivouacs.

After the second part of the Marathon stage on Friday (January 12th) and a long liaison section to Riyadh, crews and teams will enjoy a well-earned rest day in the Saudi capital on Saturday.

2024 Dakar Rally – positions after SS4
1. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU)/Timo Gottschalk (DEU) Toyota Hilux Overdrive, 15hr 44min 39sec
2. Carlos Sainz (ESP)/Lucas Cruz (ESP) Audi RS Q E-tron E2, 15hr 48min 58sec
3. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Mathieu Baumel (FRA) Prodrive Hunter, 15hr 55min 42sec
4. Mattias Ekström (SWE)/Emil Bergkvist (SWE) Audi RS Q E-tron E2, 16hr 02min 21sec
5. Lucas Moraes (BRA)/Armand Monleón (ESP) Toyota GR DKR Hilux, 16hr 04min 10sec
6. Sébastien Loeb (FRA)/Fabian Lurquin (BEL) BRX Prodrive Hunter, 16hr 08min 29sec*
7. Mathieu Serradori (FRA)/Loic Minaudier (FRA) Century CR6-T, 16hr 08min 59sec
8. Stéphane Peterhansel (FRA)/Edouard Boulanger (FRA) Audi RS Q E-tron E2, 16hr 11min 35sec
9. Vaidotas Zala (LTU)/Paulo Fiuza (PRT) Mini JCW Rally Plus, 16hr 17min 21sec*
10. Guillaume de Mevius (BEL)/Xavier Panseri (FRA) Toyota Hilux Overdrive, 16hr 23min 22sec

Select others
11. Giniel de Villiers (ZAF)/Dennis Murphy (ZAF) Toyota GR DKR Hilux, 16hr 44min 03sec*
12. Guy Botterill (ZAF)/Brett Cummings (ZAF) Toyota GR DKR Hilux, 16hr 47min 14sec*
16. Denis Krotov (KGZ)/Konstantin Zhiltsov (ISR) Toyota Hilux Overdrive, 17hr 01min 03sec
20. Guerlain Chicherit (FRA)/Alex Winocq (FRA) Toyota Hilux Overdrive, 17hr 22min 49sec
23. Juan Cruz Yacopini (ARG)/Daniel Oliveras (ESP) Toyota Hilux Overdrive, 17hr 45min 08sec
25. Eugenio Amos (ITA)/Paulo Ceci (ITA) Toyota Hilux Overdrive, 17hr 46min 53sec
26. Isidre Esteve Pujol (ESP)/José-Maria Villalobos (ESP) Toyota Hilux Overdrive, 17hr 47min 41sec*
29. Saood Variawa (ZAF)/François Cazalet (FRA) Toyota GR DKR Hilux, 17hr 52min 19sec
47. Lionel Baud (FRA)/Lucie Baud (FRA) Toyota Hilux Overdrive, 19hr 13min 13sec
77. Ronan Chabot (FRA)/Gilles Pillot (FRA) Toyota Hilux Overdrive, 21hr 21min 17sec*
TBA. Seth Quintero (USA)/Dennis Zenz (DEU) Toyota GR DKR Hilux, TBA
* denotes NOT registered for W2RC,

Neil Perkins,