Fernando Alonso quickly put behind him to the disappointment of Monday to finish the third day of the Dakar Rally in fifth place in his Gazoo Racing Toyota while his great friend and fellow Spaniard Carlos Sainz Senior (pictured above) took top honours for Mini in the Saudi desert.

Alonso’s strong recovery saw him climb from 63rd when he lined in the morning to 32nd at the end of the third day in the saddle for the double Formula 1 World Champion.

Dakar 2020 bit hard as the third day’s 427km loop around the future megacity of Neom saw several top competitors exiting a race that continues to seesaw through the Saudi Arabian Desert.

Car Duel of the Champions

The car race proved a three-way dice between the Minis of Spanish double world rally champion Carlos Sainz, 13-time Dakar winner Stephane Peterhansel and 2019 winner Nasser Al Attiyah in his SA-built Toyota Hilux, with double world F1 champion teammate, Dakar rookie Fernando Alonso holding a watching brief in fourth.

Behind them, Saudi home hero Yazeed Al Rajhi held off the Minis of countryman Yazeed Seaidan and Pole Jakub Przygonski’s Mini, but Peterhansel had issues to leave Sainz to take the day from Attiyah, Przygonski, Seaidan, a happy Alonso and Al Rajhi.

De Villiers was ninth ahead of SA Toyota Hilux teammate Bernhard Ten Brinke and Frenchman Mattieu Serradori in his Corvette-powered Century buggy.

Overall, Sainz now leads from Al Attiyah, Terranova, Al Rajhi, Peterhansel, Serradori and de Villiers.

Honda Whitewash

In the bike race, it was a dream come true for Honda as imperious Californian Ricky Brabec took control early on to lead all the way and win from teammates, Chile’s Jose Ignacio Conrejo Flormino and Spaniard Joan Barreda ahead of Argentine brothers Luciano (KTM) and Kevin Benavides (Honda) after French Xavier de Soultrait (Yamaha) and Aussie Toby Price (KTM) lost their way later on to end up 9th and 11th.

Overall, Brabec moved into the bike race lead ahead of Florimo, Barreda and Kevin Benavides in a Honda 1-2-3-4 ahead of KTM duo Matthias Walkner and Luciano Benavides.

Monday’s surprise winner Ross Branch started the day well but took a tumble after running wide and striking a rock at the 88-kilometre mark to injure his shoulder. The Botswana multiple SA Cross Country champion, however, picked it all up, dusted himself off and sorted his KTM out before heroically struggling 350km on to the finish, climbing from 122nd to around 55th and somehow hanging on to 20th overall.

Not so lucky were Branch’s fellow top-12 runners on Monday — Portuguese Hero rider Paulo Goncalves was stuck in the desert and French Yamaha ace Adrien van Beveren tumbled out of the race.

In the quads, Giovanni Enrico put one over former winner Ignacio Casale, Simon Vitse and Rafal Sonik, to leave Casale comfortably leading Sonik and Enrico overall, but the luckless Tomas Kubiena is out with a broken engine after a strong run. Andrei Karginov claimed Russian Kamaz glory with the day’s truck win as he held off Belarusian overall leader Sergei Viazovich (MAZ) and his Kamaz teammate Andrei Shibalov.

Unpredictable Results

Dakar 2020 is proving a tough nut on car and bike consistency — Monday’s overall bike winners Branch, Sam Sunderland and Pablo Quintanilla and car top-two de Villiers and Orlando Terranova all lost time, while third-placed Sheikh Al Qassimi rolled his Peugeot out of the race on Tuesday and it was a similar situation for Sunday’s leaders on Monday.

While Dakar 2020’s virgin territory certainly is a contributor to that uncertainty, tighter rules now see competitors’ road books handed out 15 minutes before the start, rather than the previous evening, preventing ‘map men’ from using satellite imagery to influence pace notes.

How much that has levelled the Dakar playing field is unclear, but some usually seamless Dakar crews are experiencing unexpected issues this year. so it seems consistency will have a major influence on this year’s Dakar results, which could well include a few dark horses come the finish in ten days time…

Next Up

Tuesday’s fourth Dakar Saudi Arabia stage sees a 427km run from Neom to Al-Ula. Can our Southern African earlier stage winners strike back? This daily Dakar Report is brought to you by Motorsport Media courtesy of TreasuryOne Motorsport and Red-Lined Motoring Adventures.

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