SANTIAGO, Chile – Anyone taking a cursory look at the classification may think the 35th edition of the Dakar was a walk in the park for Stéphane Peterhansel, the unassailable overall leader from the second stage and winner of an 11th Dakar counting all categories, a new record.
But his 5th win in a car, which he took with a 42′22″ margin over Giniel de Villiers and 1 h 28′ over teammate Leonid Novitskiy, had more to do with the bad luck of his rivals than with the Mini’s supremacy on the course. Peterhansel won two stages, but he spent the first week fighting off the onslaughts of Nasser Al-Attiyah’s buggy, and it was thanks to the Qatari’s withdrawal in stage 9 that he was able to spend the second week managing his comfortable buffer over the South African, who’d made a costly navigational mistake in stage three.
With a little push from the rule book, the two-wheel drive cars lit the fireworks in the 2013 Dakar and were rewarded with seven stage wins (three for Al-Attiyah, two for Robby Gordon and one each for Carlos Sainz and Guerlain Chicherit). Even though four-wheel drive cars, including three Minis and the Chinese Great Wall of the ever-consistent Portuguese driver Carlos Sousa (6th), took the top six places, this is to a great extent thanks to the reliability issues experienced by the buggies, which were clearly faster on the course.
The last time there were three buggies in the final Top 10 was in 2000. Ronan Chabot’s seventh place in Santiago is also the best overall performance by a two-wheel drive car since Robby Gordon finished third in 2009. Good enough for the Frenchman to defend his title in this category by 9′39″ on teammate Guerlain Chicherit.
The best rookie was Russian Vladimir Vasilyev, who finished 16th overall with his G-Force prototype, 11 places higher than the Toyota Land Cruiser driven by Spaniard Xavier Foj, who won his second-straight title in the Production category by 13′09″ on Frenchman Nicolas Gibon. Finally, Dutchman Tim Coronel won the “solo” race again by finishing 55th overall, while Colombia’s Martha Mariño was the only woman in the final classification, where she placed 86th.
In the motorcycle class, Cyril Despres took his fifth Dakar win in what was his 12th start, writing another glorious page in the history of the sport and catching up with Cyril Neveu in the palmarès of his category.
The Frenchman is now one step away from equalling the record for the most victories on a motorcycle, held by none other than Stéphane Peterhansel. But his triumph in the 2013 edition also taught him a lot about the difficulty of the future challenges awaiting him.
His victory was based on the traditional ingredients: a strong physical and technical performance, good navigational skills and a feeling for the race. But it also drew upon a series of circumstances, not coincidences, which he couldn’t have possibly foreseen. The defending champion was on the defensive throughout the first week, with the Yamahas in the limelight.
His chances seemed to be in danger halfway throughout the marathon stage, raced over two days with a pause in an isolated bivouac in Cachi, which he reached in 5th place overall, a failing engine and the prospect of a 15-minute penalty for swapping engines with Pole Marek Dabrowski.
The field was stronger and more competitive than ever before in the short history of the Quad category. With twelve nationalities on the start line, Marcos Patronelli’s victory was nothing to sneeze at. The Argentinean followed in the footsteps of his older brother Alejandro (winner in 2011 and 2012, but absent from this edition) and took another win to go along with his triumph in 2010.
The Patronellis extended their iron rule (with the younger brother winning four stages and taking the rally with 1 h 35′ to spare on runner-up Ignacio Casale, and 3 h 18′ on third-placed Rafał Sonik), but the 35th edition also saw the rise of new players who proved their mettle from their Dakar debut.
Among them, South African Van Biljon, Sebastian Husseini and Aussie Pal Smith, all of them stage winners, as well as Peruvian Ignacio Flores and Chileans Casale and Palma. A clear signal of the rise of new credible and unabashed competitors ready to challenge the Argentinean brothers.
In the truck class, the 2013 edition of the Dakar Rally saw the comeback of the Kamazs, which took their 11th win and, most importantly, pulled off a stunning 1-2-3 in Santiago with Russians Eduard Nikolaev, Ayrat Mardeev and Andrey Karginov. A nice gift for Vladimir Chagin in his first year as team manager. But the race wasn’t dyed in the same deep blue hue as it was during the Tsar’s reign.
Champion Nikolaev was the first truck driver in the history of the rally to win the race without taking any stages and, all in all, the Russian juggernauts only won four, with defending champion Gerard de Rooy taking six. There’s no doubt he was the fastest man on the course, but a broken turbo in the ninth stage put paid to his hopes.
He lost an hour and was unable to claw it back, finishing in fourth place, 4′19″ from the podium and just ahead of the two ageing Tatras driven by Martin Kolomý and especially Aleš Loprais, his only rival in the early stages and ephemeral leader after stage 4, before a failing battery dashed his dreams of fighting for the top honours the very next day.