Spaniard Carlos Sainz extended his record as the oldest winner of the Dakar Rally on Friday with his fourth victory in the car category, and Audi’s first, at the age of 61 and a year after breaking his back.
Ferrari Formula One driver Carlos Sainz Jr was there to embrace his beaming ‘Matador’ father as the two-week motorsport marathon reached the finish in Yanbu on Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast.
American Honda rider Ricky Brabec won the motorcycling category for the second time while Spaniard Cristina Gutierrez triumphed in the lightweight Challenger class to become only the second female to take a title after Germany’s Jutta Kleinschmidt in 2001.
Sainz finished one hour 20 minutes and 25 seconds ahead of Belgian debutant Guillaume de Mevius for Overdrive Toyota with France’s Sebastien Loeb, a nine times world rally champion, third overall.
Loeb had been Sainz’s biggest rival until mechanical problems on Thursday but he wrapped up with a fifth stage win in his Bahrain Raid Xtreme team’s Prodrive Hunter.
Audi, now expected to focus on their Formula One entry in 2026, are the first to win with a car powered by an electric drive train.
The Audi RS Q e-tron uses an energy converter, featuring a 2.0 litre four cylinder turbo engine, to charge the car’s high-voltage battery while driving.
“This car is so special, it’s so difficult to manage, it has been so difficult to make it work … I’m so happy for Audi,” said Sainz, who held the lead from stage six after Saudi driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi crashed out.
“To be here with my age and to stay at the level, you need to work a lot before. It’s not coming just like that. It shows that when you work hard, normally it pays off,” said the 1990 and 1992 world rally champion.
“At the moment I want to enjoy this victory and I will think about my future in the next weeks and we will see.”
Sainz retired from last year’s event after fracturing his T5 and T6 vertebrae in a crash.
FOUR DIFFERENT MARQUES
The Spaniard has now won the Dakar with four different manufacturers — Volkswagen in 2010, Peugeot in 2018 and Mini in 2020 — and held the previous record as the oldest winner at 57.
He and co-driver Lucas Cruz did it this time without winning any of the individual stages but with the assistance of team mates Stephane Peterhansel and Mattias Ekstrom, who helped with spare tyres after going out of contention themselves.
Qatar’s defending champion Nasser Al-Attiyah failed to finish in his Prodrive Hunter.
The victory pulled Sainz level with Finnish great Ari Vatanen in the all-time rankings, with only Al-Attiyah (five) and Peterhansel (eight) winning more.
Brabec finished 10 minutes and 53 seconds clear of Botswana’s Hero rider Ross Branch with French rider Adrien van Beveren third.
“A little bit different this one. I feel like this was more earned. This was a lot tougher. In 2020, we had a big gap from the get-go. Here, I think me and Ross spent three days with a couple of seconds difference,” said Brabec.
Argentina’s Manuel Andujar won the quad category while Czech driver Martin Macik took the truck title in his Iveco and France’s Xavier de Soultrait was the SSV (side-by-side) champion.
The rally began in 1978 as a race from Paris across the Sahara to the Senegalese capital but switched to South America in 2009 for security reasons.
One of the greatest challenges in motorsport, with competitors battling towering desert dunes and inhospitable terrain, it moved to Saudi Arabia in 2020 and is now the flagship of the FIA world rally-raid championship.