97 motorcycles, 22 quads, 63 cars (including 5 SSVs) and 38 trucks —220 of the 318 vehicles that left Asunción, Paraguay, on 2 January— reached the final podium set up in front of the Argentinian Automobile Club building in Buenos Aires. The 39th edition of the Dakar was marked by a long stay above 3,500 masl on the Bolivian Altiplano. Stéphane Peterhansel emerged victorious from his eleventh-hour duel with Sébastien Loeb, while Cyril Despres completed the Peugeot 1-2-3. Victory in the motorcycle category went to a new champion. Sam Sunderland became the first British winner of the Dakar after beating Austrian Matthias Walkner and Spaniard Gerard Farrés. The Russian armada took the spoils in the quad category, with Sergey Karyakin, and the truck category, with 2013 champion Eduard Nikolayev spearheading the Kamaz comeback.
Cars: "Peter" ramps it up to 13!
The alchemist of rally raids never fails to strike the exact balance between the elements needed to distil the essence Dakar victories are made of. Everyone knows its formula and ingredients (speed without haste, consistency, navigational skills, etc.), but Stéphane Peterhansel extended his victorious streak with his 13th triumph, the 7th of his car racing career, which has included stints with three teams. It was hard to see who would be the Peugeot Dream Team's leader at the beginning of the race in Asunción, but Carlos Sainz's spectacular crash started the drama of the clash of lions, which came to a head with a high-stakes duel between "Mister Dakar" and "Mister Rally". Sébastien Loeb, racing in his second Dakar, managed to minimise the number and significance of his mistakes to go toe-to-toe with "Peter" in a clash of titans, but his challenge ended in disappointment in his old stomping grounds in Córdoba, where he had racked up victory after victory as a WRC driver. Seemingly within reach of the title near the end of the penultimate special, Loeb suffered a flat tyre after hitting a stone "like so many others", as he says ruefully. The minutes spent changing the tyre, together with the lost opportunity to gain time on a course which suited him perfectly, were more or less the difference between the winner and the runner-up. "We'll have to keep on trying", acknowledges the prodigy.
Cyril Despres's third place in his third participation in the car category was another step in his progression and development in this new chapter of his career, as well as proving the dominance of the Peugeot 3008. The brand claimed a 1-2-3 to match those Mini, Volkswagen and Mitsubishi pulled off in recent years. That is not to say the competition was weak. Nasser Al-Attiyah was a serious rival until he had to withdraw in stage 3. "Nani" Roma, also racing in a Toyota, was just 5 minutes behind "Peter" halfway through the race and, therefore, in a position to challenge Peugeot for the win. However, the Catalan faltered in the final week and finished this elimination race just outside the podium, ahead of teammate Giniel de Villiers. Orlando Terranova and Jakub Przygoński drove their Minis to sixth and seventh place overall. They ended up over two and four hours back, respectively, but will surely want to make amends next year. Simply waiting for the next round is not an option for X-Raid and Toyota. They will also need to go toe-to-toe with Peugeot in an R&D race if they want to restore their former glory.
Motorcycles: the new Sunderland arises
After being sent home by a mechanical problem and impulsive riding in his first two participations in 2012 and 2014, and suffering a fall shortly before the start in 2015, this time round Sam Sunderland waited until the final stage before even talking of this victory, which seemed likely from early on. The man from Dorset completed his first Dakar and become the first British winner of the rally to boot. Fourth in Resistencia, third in San Miguel de Tucumán and second in San Salvador de Jujuy, Sunderland seized the overall lead in Bolivia at the end of stage 5 to Oruro. The KTM rider put in a stellar performance on the Altiplano, displaying an unusual level of consistency his top rivals were no match for.
2016 winner Toby Price was sent home after breaking a leg between San Salvador and Tupiza. The official Honda riders also came to rue this stage after receiving a one-hour penalty for refuelling during the short neutralisation of the special at the border between Argentina and Bolivia. Sunderland avoided navigational mistakes and other pitfalls on the course to successfully defend his lead. Pablo Quintanilla, his closest rival, was eventually forced out of the race as well after sustaining a brain concussion on the way to San Juan. Sunderland's teammate Matthias Walkner, who also finished the Dakar for the first time in three participations, took over the second step on the podium. Gerard Farrés and Adrien Van Beveren fought for the bottom step of the podium until the closing stage. The Spaniard on Himoinsa's "La Roja" made it a 1-2-3 for KTM with just 48 seconds to spare.
Quads: Karyakin brings his talent to bear
The presence of so many contenders for victory among the 37 competitors on the start line in Asunción made the first part of the race extremely hectic, with Brazil's Marcelo Medeiros, Argentina's Pablo Copetti, Chile's Ignacio Casale, Russia's Sergey Karyakin and French rookie Simon Vitse taking turns at the top of the classification. Top riders such as Macháček and Nosiglia were forced to withdraw, while Rafał Sonik gradually faded away from the front of the race. The road was clear for Karyakin. The ambitious rider, fourth in last year's edition, took the lead in stage 7 and never looked back, defeating the double menace of a surprising Axel Dutrie and former winner Ignacio Casale. A mere 10 minutes separated the three men at the beginning of the special, but the stage from Chilecito to San Juan saw Karyakin land the decisive blow on his opponents.
Trucks: Kamaz strikes back
Gerard de Rooy and his long-nosed Iveco were unable to repeat last year's performance. Although the Dutch trucker won two stages and even led the rally for two days halfway through the race, it had more to do with his never-say-die attitude than anything else. Kamaz shone throughout the race, grabbing five stages and placing at least one truck in the top 3 of each stage bar the opening 39 km sortie in Paraguay. As well as dominating the stages, they spent six days in the overall lead, first with Sotnikov and then with Nikolayev, who put the icing on the Russian cake by winning the closing stage. De Rooy had to settle for third place, 41′19″ behind Eduard Nikolayev, who repeated his 2013 victory and made amends for his seventh place in 2016. Dmitry Sotnikov finished second in his fourth Dakar, proving the depth of the Tatar squad.