Port Edward rider Stuart Gregory (100) is on course to conquer the Dakar after successfully completing Stage Five on Thursday.
Thursday’s Stage, from historic Al-`Ula to Ha’il, comprised some 211km of Liaison and 353km of Special. Long stretches of sand were punctuated by demanding rocky sections. Rocks had already caused issues yesterday, so competitors were certainly aware of the dangers they could pose.
Original by Motul Category competitor Gregory finished the Stage in 18th place – consistent with his 17th place after Stage Four. He has slipped back two places in the General Classification but is still in a very creditable 13th position as the riders approach the halfway point of this year’s Dakar.
“I felt better on the bike yesterday. Even with 200km of tough dunes, overall for me it was not a bad day,” explained Gregory.
“At one point, I came in a bit hot on a section like a rollercoaster: a steep downhill followed by a dune top, which meant that I went airborne, which was perhaps a bit too exciting!” he admitted.
Past winners and Dakar Legends Toby Price and Carlos Sainz took the Stage 5 wins in their respective Categories. In the process, Sainz (#305) strengthened his grip on the overall first place in the Car category, although Price (#1) is only in second place in the General Classification for the Bike Category despite notching up his second Stage win of 2020.
Another former winner of the Dakar, Sam Sunderland (#3), suffered a serious crash and picked up injuries that have ruled him out of the rest of this year’s Dakar. This was his fifth withdrawal in seven attempts at the world’s toughest Rally-Raid event, including crashes in 2015 and 2018.
Competitors had to take on the climb up to the plateau of Jabal Sammar before arriving in the Bivouac, which – appropriately enough – was in the traditional home of Saudi Arabian rally driving. Ha’il hosts an annual rally event supported by Saudi motorsports fans.
After being hit by a rock thrown up by a T5 Truck on Stage Four, the Sabertooth Motoring Adventure/Red-Lined team’s Nissan Navara needed a new windscreen – which was fitted in the middle of the night as temperatures were nudging zero and tiredness was taking its toll.
Fatigue has started to become a serious factor for competitors across all categories in this year’s Dakar, but the spirit of the Dakar always finds a way to overcome tired muscles and minds. As driver Thomas Bell stated, “As the Dakar gets tougher, you have to get tougher!”
After being pushed to the limit on Stage Four, the Sabertooth Motoring Adventure/Red-Lined team’s Nissan Navara (#342) had a really good day, according to Terence Marsh, CEO of Motul-backed Red-Lined Motoring Adventures.
“The car is home safely – with no punctures,” reported Marsh. “After starting as car number 62, right at the back of the pack, they fought back brilliantly and worked their way through the field to finish the Stage in 33rd position,” he added.
The fact that Stage Five comprised more than 40% dunes meant that the Dubai-based team were on more familiar ground, and it showed in their results. They were able to undo some of the damage done to their prospects on Stage Four, and started in 55th position in the General Classification.
Friday’s Stage Six will end in the Saudi Arabian capital, Riyadh, which will be the venue for the only rest day on this year’s Dakar: on Saturday, competitors can enjoy the luxury of not riding or driving anywhere!
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