Rolf Michl, Carlos Sainz

Dakar 2024 Rest Day: Ageless Sainz still as good as it gets at 61

Rolf Michl, Carlos Sainz audi

Spanish 61-year-old, Carlos Sainz is having the time of his life at this year’s Dakar Rally, the three-time winner of motorsport’s toughest endurance test leads this year’s edition for Audi after a stamina-sapping first week in the Saudi Arabian sand by over 20 minutes.

Sainz has summoned all his guile and expertise to put himself in a prime position for a fourth overall title after the inaugural 48-hour two-part stage six in the kingdom’s Empty Quarter.

The father of Formula 1 driver Carlos Sainz finished the stage second to Sebastien Loeb to top the standings ahead of his Audi teammate Mattias Ekstrom to make him the man to beat going into the second week.

On Saturday’s rest day in Riyadh he told AFP he was “proud and happy” after his performance behind the wheel of his Audi Hybrid since the start of the 2024 Dakar on January 5 in Al-Ula.

“We are better prepared than last year, the main priority is reliability,” he noted, in reference to his team’s problem in that department over the past two Dakars. “When we have such a complex car it’s only normal to worry about something going wrong.”

While Sainz sailed through the Empty Quarter, the vast expanse of desert proved catastrophic for the title prospects of three of his arch-rivals: defending champion Nasser Al-Attiyah, the Qatari’s Prodrive teammate Saudi Arabian Yazeed Al-Rajhi, and record 14-time Dakar winner Stephane Peterhansel, a Frenchman who drives for Audi.

Sainz noted: “Anything can happen so quickly, you can easily lose half an hour. If you are behind a rival it’s easy to make up a lot of time on him by taking risks. But it’s also a certainty that due to my experience, sooner or later you’re going to make a mistake or crash.”

Carlos: We all want to win the Dakar

Carlos Sainz: We all want to win the Dakar Dakar Rally 2024

Sainz, a former Spanish squash champion, won two world rally titles before retiring from the WRC in 2005 to embark on a second career in off-road rallying. He took 11th on his Dakar debut in 2006, winning in 2010, 2018 and 2020.

Despite all his success, he is on more than nodding terms with the flip side of the event, having to abandon it on no fewer than seven occasions, including last year.

While Peterhansel may hold the record for number of titles Sainz holds a proud record of his own. In 2020 aged 57 he became the oldest ever winner – a milestone he is hoping to break when this year’s edition wraps up in Yanbu on the Red Sea next Friday.

“We all want to win the Dakar,” insisted Sainz. “I imagine that for Mattias (Ekstrom) or Sebastien (Loeb), who have never won it, finishing second or third is worth nothing in their eyes. I am sure they will take risks, that they will put a lot of pressure on me. I will defend as best as possible.”

He rates Loeb, runner up in the last two years, as “one of the best drivers in history” and added: “It is clear that one day or another he will win the Dakar, we have to postpone that moment,” added the man nicknamed ‘El Matador’.

After their well-earned time-out on Saturday, Sainz and company will fire up their engines again on Sunday for stage seven which includes a 483km special as they head to Al-Duwadimi.