Race to the finish

At the business end of the Dakar and Audi Sport inches that much closer to another milestone.

With just two days of competition remaining, Carlos Sainz and Lucas Cruz remain out front in what will be an exciting and potentially history-making Dakar 2024.

18 January, 2024

Never an event for the faint-hearted, the 2024 Dakar is once again living up to its reputation for shredding the nerves of both competitors and spectators alike. With just two days of competition remaining, Carlos Sainz and Lucas Cruz remain in the lead, but a difficult day on Stage 10 has seen that lead reduced to just over 13 minutes, heralding in a nail-biting finish for all concerned.

Although a relatively short stage compared to some, the 371 kilometre competitive route and 609 total proved disproportionately challenging, with the old enemy of rocks and punctures once again raring their ugly heads.

For race leader Carlos Sainz that meant stopping three times in all to fix punctures – a delay in itself, but one compounded by the fact that after the first two tyre changes they were out of spares. Unable to fix the third puncture they were forced to wait at the 248 kilometre mark for teammates Mattias Ekström and Emil Bergkvist to arrive and share their own spare wheels to get them going again.

The resultant delay cost a precious seven minutes – such a seemingly small amount in a race that covers nearly 8000km, but with former WRC champion Sebastian Loeb hot in pursuit, every minute counts.

The three punctures cost Sainz and Cruz seven minutes of their the lead, with every minute precious king into the last two days

The feeling is that tomorrow – Stage 11 – will not only be the hardest in the rally, but could decide the result

“A lot of stones and you know if you go slow you get punctures,” said a weary Carlos Sainz at the end of the day’s racing. “I was trying to be careful but we had the three punctures and the last one was slow but we couldn’t repair it and we had to wait for Mattias, and thank you very much [to him] because we got a couple of tyres from him and we were able to continue.”

Thanks to the selfless efforts of Ekström, Sainz and Cruz were able to continue and limit their time lost to the seven minutes, finishing the stage in 25th but retaining an overall lead of just over 13 minutes with two final stages to go.

The feeling is that tomorrow – Stage 11 – will not only be the hardest in the rally and couldl ultimately decide the result.

“Tomorrow is the day with the rally I think,” Carlos Sainz. “If you are lucky with the punctures it can go well and if you’re unlucky it can go bad. It’s the stage where last year basically the rally was decided … anything can happen and we can only try.”

Being able to use a team strategy is certainly something that will factor in to the run to the finish line, as the likelihood of punctures in Stage 11 is practically a certainty, but planning for every eventuality in Dakar is simply not possible. That it comes down to the wire is part and parcel of the Dakar – and after all, if it was easy, what would be the challenge?

Racing against the clock

Getting down to the business end of proceedings, where every seconds counts.

Watch the Stage 10 highlights