Nasser Al-Attiyah and Marc Coma avoided any last minute drama to claim the car and bike titles in the 2015 Dakar Rally which after 9,000 gruelling kilometres concluded in Baradero on Saturday.
For both it was a case of renewed glory in the notoriously tough event described as rallying’s Everest, with Qatari Al-Attiyah having won the 2011 title and defending champion Coma claiming his fifth victory in the two-wheel category.
And for Al-Attiyah’s Mini team it was a fourth successive Dakar title and for Coma’s KTM outfit a 14th victory overall. “The key was to remain in front each day, and that wasn’t easy,” said the 44-year-old Al-Attiyah who became only the seventh multiple car winner with sixth in the 13th stage from Rosario to Bardero north of Buenos Aires which was shortened to only 34 kilometres due to heavy rain.
He added: “We had to work day after day, but we did a great job with Mathieu (Baumel, his co-driver). I reckon experience helped in this second title, and training.” Coma for his part said he was “proud and happy” of his fifth Dakar victory.
“To talk about a sixth title next year is still too early, I want to first of all enjoy this fifth win.” Al-Attiyah, who has also enjoyed success in the Olympic Games, winning bronze in skeet shooting at the 2012 Games in London, dominated from start to finish.
He set down his marker for the title when posting the quickest time in the opening stage leaving Buenos Aires a fortnight ago. He was subsequently stripped of the first stage for speeding, but did not let that hiccup distract him as he bounced back to take the second stage, and ended with five stage wins in all.
Assisted by Baumel of France he dealt masterfully with all the Dakar could throw at him, from crossing the Andes to coping with Chile’s Atacama desert to Bolivia’s salt flats. In the curtailed closing stage, Robby Gordon came out on top, the American crossing the line over half a minute clear of Leeroy Poulter. Argentina’s Emiliano Spataro crossed in third.
In the bikes race, Coma, the 38-year-old from Catalonia, equalled the number of titles held by French duo Cyril Neveu and Cyril Despres, who now competes in the car category for Peugeot, and one behind another Frenchman, Stephane Peterhansel. Coma added: “Everyone was saying that the absence of Despres would make it easy for me, but that was absolutely not the case.” Coma was joined on the final podium by Paulo Goncalves, riding a Honda and almost 17 minutes adrift with Australia’s Toby Price, on another KTM, finishing third in the overall standings.
Saturday’s closing 393 kilometre (101km timed) stage between Rosario and Baradero was won by Ivan Jakes of Slovakia. He was followed across the line by his compatriot Stefan Svitko with Price taking third for a KTM 1-2-3. Organisers were forced to shorten the stage as heavy rain had rendered sections of the road too dangerous.
Coma, who came in fifth on Saturday, inherited the lead in the overall standings from Honda’s Joan Barreda after the eighth stage. Coma opened his Dakar account in Africa in 2006, he then won again in 2009, the first time it was held in South America, adding the 2011, 2014 and now this year’s title Finishing in ninth place overall came Laia Sanz, the 29-year-old Spaniard who betterred by one place the highest ever finish for a woman rider.
Russian Airat Mardeev won the trucks race and Rafal Sonik of Poland came out on top in quads. Over half the 406 competitors that set out two weeks ago completed the rally. This year’s edition cost one competitor his life — Polish motorbike rider Michal Hernik dying as a result of hyperthermia and dehydration during the third vstage from San Juan to Chilecito.
Hernik, 39, was found dead a few hundred metres from the track after a helicopter had been sent out to look for him when he failed to turn up at the finish and his tracker stopped sending a signal. His was the fifth death since the rally was moved to South America over security concerns in the Sahara desert and the 24th overall since the race was created in 1979.