DAY 14: Stage 11 – January 18, 2024 – Route: AlUla > Yanbu – Liaison 107km and Special 420km
– Carlos Sainz all but assured himself a fourth Dakar Rally title on Thursday when his nearest rival Sébastien Loeb endured a nightmare Stage 11 and the Spaniard nursed his Audi RS Q e-tron car from AlUla to Yanbu with just one slow puncture. A huge special stage saw hard charging challengers going on the attack and Loeb – hunting his first elusive Dakar title – suffered with a damaged suspension on his Prodrive Hunter that saw him lose over an hour to Sainz on the day. Loeb, 49, said: “We lost more than one hour sitting on a rock. We thought that it was completely finished for us. Finally we were lucky that Yungang Zi came by in his Hunter and had the spare parts that we needed.”
– With Brazilian Lucas Moraes also slipping down the overall standings due to vehicle damage, Belgian Guillaume De Mevius vaulted up into second overall with Sainz’s lead now 1h 26m 06s. Second place on his Ultimate class debut would be a remarkable result for the 29-year-old, who is less than half the age of rally-raid legend Sainz and he clearly has a bright future ahead of him. He said: “We’re happy to be here with only one day left. We will see what’s going on behind and in front of us tomorrow.” Elsewhere, Astara driver Laia Sanz is not only hitting her target of a top-20 finish by currently sitting 17th overall, but she also has the third fastest two-wheel drive car in the race.
– In the Challenger class, Lithuanian Rokas Baciuška made his podium move on Thursday to leapfrog Chaleco López into third place behind leader Mitch Guthrie Jr. – who is on the verge of his first Dakar title for the Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team – with Spanish star Cristina Gutiérrez eating into the American’s lead by just under three minutes today. Baciuška, 24, said: “The stage was tough, every time stony, stony, stony. We did a good job and we moved into third in the general. I hope we can survive one more day. The target for today was to bring the car home in one piece.”
– On two wheels, the Red Bull riders could not make any serious inroads into the Honda trio who were in the podium places overall at the start of the day’s action. Argentine Luciano Benavides finished fourth and Australian Toby Price fifth as Botswana’s Ross Branch took 32 seconds out of American Ricky Brabec’s overall lead with a gutsy stage victory. Price, 36, said: “Everything felt really good, but the stones are really hard to get through at the moment. We didn’t have any big navigation mistakes today. Now we’ve got one stage to go and we’re getting close to the finish, that’s a nice feeling.”
– Friday’s final Stage 12 sees a timed special stage of 175km on the outskirts of Yanbu before the winners – along with every other competitor who crosses the finish line – will be honoured at a podium ceremony on the shoreline of the Red Sea.
2024 Dakar Rally overall standings after Stage 11
1. Carlos Sainz (ESP) 46h 24m 47s
2. Guillaume De Mevius (BEL) +1h 26m 06s
3. Sébastien Loeb (FRA) +1h 36m 02s
1. Mitch Guthrie Jr. (USA) 51h 38m 06s
2. Cristina Gutiérrez (ESP) +25m 07s
3. Rokas Baciuška (LTU) +1h 20m 55s
1. Ricky Brabec (USA) 49h 37m 57s
2. Ross Branch (BWA) +10m 22s
3. Adrien Van Beveren (FRA) +14m 31s