Leading the way

Carlos Sainz continues to lead after Day 3 of Dakar.

Only three days into the 2023 Dakar and many of the most fancied teams are already facing time deficits that will be all but impossible to reel in – but three-time winner, Carlos Sainz and co-driver Lucas Cruz continue to the lead the pack.

3 January, 2023

It was the sixth stage win for the Audi RS Q e-tron in the Dakar Rally and the perfect start for Sainz

After topping the Prologue with the fastest time, Audi Sport remains out in front in the 2023 Dakar Rally after Day 3. But where it was Swede, Mattias Ekström who topped the time charts in the prologue, its is the 60-year-old Spaniard, Carlos Sainz, who is currently leading the pack through the harsh terrain of the Empty Quarter.

On the first stage of the race proper, Ekström and co-driver Emil Bergkvist were fastest all day, but a 15 second time penalty for missing a way point dropped the Swedish pair well down the order. Mr Dakar, Stéphane Peterhansel and Edouard Boulanger likewise suffered navigation issues as well as double punctures which had a similar effect on their standings at the end of the day. Precious minutes spent changing tyres eating into any progress they made – nevertheless the French pairing still finished in the top 10 for the day. 

But it was Sainz, who is chasing his fourth Dakar title who overcame an early puncture to storm home and take the stage victory (the sixth Dakar stage win for the Audi RS Q e-tron) and seal the dream start to his campaign.

The fact that his wife and son, Carlos Sainz Jnr were visiting the Dakar to cheer him on made it all the sweeter.

See the highlights of Day 2 here.

The veteran Sainz was joined by his wife, Reyes Vázquez de Castro, son Carlos Sainz Jnr with his girlfriend Isabel Hernaez on stage 1 of the rally.

On Day 3, Sainz and Cruz led the way through terrain that even the organisers admitted was more difficult than expected. Significant rain in recent times loosening up the shale in the steep, rocky sections and forcing organisers to work to widen some passes to allow vehicles enough room to get through. 

Sainz was also faced with the problems that come with leading an event like the Dakar, where the lead vehicle ‘opens the road’ and navigates from ‘scratch’ – having to pick their way through the virgin country. Any wrong turn can result in costly time backtracking, or worse, a time penalty for failing to reach a way point – as Ekström found to his detriment in the first stage.

Vehicles starting further down the field from the lead vehicles have the advantage of being able to follow in the wheel tracks of those that have already gone ahead, significantly reducing their risk of taking a wrong turn and allowing them to press on at a faster pace. That of course doesn’t do much to negate the constant threat of the razor sharp rocks decimating tyres – something that continues to be a problem for all competitors.

But despite the conditions and having to navigate their way through first, Sainz produced another podium result, to finish Day 3 in third and keep his hold on the overall lead in the event. While Peterhansel lost most than 30 minutes to tyre damage and the resultant low speeds to avoid further stops, ultimately coming home in 15th. While Mattias Ekström and Emil Bergkvist, having used up both spares, were forced to continually stop and reinflate their last spare tyre just to finish the stage without having to stop and wait for the support truck to arrive. This made for slow progress that ultimately saw the pair come home in 19th, putting them 15th overall with Peterhansel still in the top 10 in 8th outright.

Watch the highlights of Day 3 here.

Conditions have been even tougher than expected on tyres, forcing competitors to go slower to conserve spares and ensure finishing each stage