Dakar 2021: delights, dunes and dromedaries

The 2021 Dakar provided another spectacular set of images, as drivers and riders battled the arid, dusty conditions

Mini of Stéphane Peterhansel tackes the sand dunes of Dakar 2021

Dakar legend Stéphane Peterhansel celebrated his 14th career victory on the event, this time in a Mini buggy

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Held in Saudi Arabia for the second time, the 2021 Dakar gave us its customary thrills, off-road heartbreak and extreme tests of human endeavour, not to mention an even greater amount of navigational controversy than usual.

Stéphane Peterhansel took the overall car win in the X-Raid John Cooper Works Mini buggy – his 14th victory, 30 years after his first, achieved while competing in the bike category. A disgruntled Carlos Sainz finished third overall in another John Cooper Works Mini, the four-time Dakar winner complaining this year’s event was too reliant on navigation, likening it to a “gymkhana”.

Competitors this year were given their navigational roadbooks 15 minutes before the start of each stage, as opposed to the day before, meaning they had no time to add their own notes

Sébastien Loeb – competing in the new Prodrive-run BRX-Hunter Raid Xtreme after a one-year Dakar hiatus – endured a torrid rally. Things started to go wrong for the 2017 runner-up on stage five, after he suffered two punctures and got lost in the desert.

He then broke the suspension arm on his BRX-Hunter on the next stage, and was left waiting for eight hours in the desert only for the recovery truck to bring the wrong parts to fix it – two right suspension arms instead of one right and one left.

Loeb next found himself embroiled in a row with the event’s officials, labelling the stewards “incompetent” after they handed him a five-minute time penalty for exceeding the speed limit in stage four. Loeb’s misery was compounded when two punctures within the first 50 miles of stage eight, when he only had one spare tyre, forced him to retire.

The Frenchman also backed up Sainz on the navigational front, saying this year’s event was a “race of co-drivers”.

Kris Meeke made his Dakar debut, and despite more than a few setbacks managed to make the finish. After setting fastest time for the T3 class in the Prologue aboard his PH Sport-run Zephyr buggy, Meeke suffered a freak fire caused when his spare wheel ignited after his electronics overheated on stage one.

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Meeke’s buggy then broke two drive shafts during the marathon stage, meaning he had to cover a considerable length of the event with only two-wheel drive.

Despite commenting that Dakar was “trying to crush my soul”, the indefatigable Ulsterman somehow made the finish. Francisco López Contardo won Meeke’s Lightweight Vehicle category, while Argentinian rider Kevin Benavides became only the third non-European to take overall victory in the Bike class.

In the Quads, Manuel Andújar took the win with a 33min advantage, as Dmitry Sotnikov scored an assured victory in the Trucks category, finishing 40min ahead of Kamaz team-mate Anton Shibalov.

Sadly, French rider Pierre Cherpin, 52, lost his life following a crash on the seventh stage of the event.