Courtesy of Red Bull Media Service Team
Motorsports legend impressed with Fernando Alonso debut in Saudi Arabia.
Carlos Sainz has revealed how tight the battle was at the 2020 Dakar Rally after he fought off Nasser Al-Attiyah and Stéphane Peterhansel for his third title.
The Spanish racing legend, who is also a two-time WRC champion, triumphed in a MINI X-Raid at the Saudi Arabian debut of the world’s toughest rally-raid race which saw the field attack the new, almost 8,000km route of unchartered and unforgiving desert terrain.
The 57-year-old has now won on three different continents with three different manufacturers and is open to another tilt at the iconic event’s 43rd edition.
Here is what the Madrid native had to say about his January hat-trick triumph:
How was the first Dakar Rally rally in Saudi Arabia for you?
The first rally in Saudi Arabia was very successful, especially the first week, which had fantastic landscapes and perfect conditions to run rally raid stages. The second week was a little bit fast, but we must congratulate ASO and the Saudi Arabia government for putting together such a fantastic race in a short period of time. I really enjoyed it.
What were the main challenges faced in Saudi Arabia compared with South America?
The characteristics of the Dakar remains very similar, but I would say that Saudi Arabia reminds me more of Africa. We shouldn’t say that South America was easier, I think we had good and difficult races there, but Saudi Arabia has all the ingredients to have a perfect Dakar. There’s one difference which makes a little bit easier, at least for me: the temperature. This year, the temperatures were much lower than in South America, so that was a little bit easier for myself, as normally I suffer quite a lot with the heat.
You’re a born competitor and have excelled in many sports, so what do you enjoy most about racing?
Of course, the Dakar is a great challenge. It’s a race you need to respect and prepare a lot for, especially if you’re a veteran like me. I love competition, I love winning and this is a great challenge, where you push your body and your brain to the limit. The fact that you’re competing for 12 days on stages longer than 500km makes it a special event for everybody. This year especially, we had a great competition with Stéphane and Nasser. We were very close together and we needed to push from the first to the last day, and that made the rally very exciting from the driving point of view.
Did this Dakar Rally suit your driving style?
I come from rallying and that gives you some advantages when you change to rally raid, but it’s completely different and you need to adapt to driving off road. You need to adapt to the dunes, especially in this area, where you’re driving a lot in the open desert. Coming from rallying, we’re more familiar with the roads, the line and we’re looking for a tenth of a second. In rally raid, you need to adapt, as I said, for the open desert, try to ride the dunes, try to ride the dangers and then try to push as much as possible. One of the difficult things I had to adapt to was to be more patient and to drive with my eyes, as we don’t have pace notes. You needed to drive blind, but this can give you great surprises and, in some occasions, you have big moments.
Was it helpful that your team-mate Stéphane was battling Nasser for second place. Did that take the heat off when you were leading?
I would say we had a three-way battle and I never considered Stéphane or Nasser out of the battle. We were very close, especially this year, with the new rules of navigation. The minutes were really going in one direction or in another very quickly, so the gap between the three of us was always very small. I consider that the battle was between the three of us and not only for second place. You must consider that with three days to go, I only had a 24-second lead, so it is was very close.
You now have three Dakar titles and two WRC titles, but which sport is the hardest to master?
They’re very different, so you can’t compare the Dakar to the WRC.
What about Fernando Alonso‘s Dakar Rally debut?
Fernando did a great job. Of course, we talked before the race and I tried to advise him as much as I could. I told him he should prepare for the rally very well and respect it. I told him that it wasn’t going to be easy, especially with him coming from circuit races. He did it and prepared himself very well. He went to South Africa, he did the Morocco rally and quite a few tests. I think Fernando has been very brave to take this decision and he managed to drive a good race. I congratulated him for that and I think with more experience he could do much better. The Dakar isn’t an easy race, you need to have experience and, of course, the last step in speed is the most difficult one. I’m sure with more experience he will be closer however. He clearly has a great talent.
What are your future plans and can you keep going for another Dakar Rally?
We need to see. Of course, this year was a great one and I felt really good. I prepared myself a lot and this race was one of the best, but in any case we have to wait now and see what options there are. If I have a good possibility, with a good car and a good team, why not try again?