The Arab world has a new sporting superstar following the success of Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah in winning the 2011 Dakar Rally - the longest and toughest motor race in the world. Al Attiyah headed a 1-2-3 finish for Volkswagen's TDI diesel Touareg 3 race cars, while the usual suspects fought a tooth-and-nail battle on KTMs for the laurels - Depres and Coma battled throughout the event on times with Coma besting last year's winner at the end. In the truck section, Kamaz's Vladimir Chagin repeated last year's win while Red Bull sponsored the three major category winners for the third year in a row - we're not sure what that means but it's quite some feat.
If it hadn't been for Al Attiyah's win, which will surely make him one of the most popular and famous arab sportspersons of all time, there might not have been much point in having the rally at all, as the leading marques in Volkswagen, KTM and Kamaz seem to have the winning formula down to a repeatable recipe.
Volkswagen won the Rally for the third time in succession and standing alongside Nasser Al Attiyah and his navigator Timo Gottschalk on the podium in Buenos Aires on Sunday were the 2009 winning team of Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz and the 2010 winners, Carlos Sainz and Lucas Cruz. Volkswagen led the event from the start, won 12 of a possible 13 stage victories and Carlos Sainz won seven stage victories during the event, giving him 24 stage victories in total and surpassing the 23 stage victories scored by current rival Frenchman Stéphane Peterhansel.
To make rival teams even more dispirited, the fourth works team (Mark Miller/Ralph Pitchford) finished in sixth position, meaning that all four 310 bhp Race Touareg 3 cars that started the 9,600 kilometre rally finished it in leading positions and it continued a record for reliability that speaks volumes - Volkswagen has not recorded a single technically related retirement in cross country rallying in FOUR YEARS.
The third generation Race Touareg equipped with a 2.5 litre TDI engine and permanent four-wheel drive completed its "Dakar" premiere successfully. The power unit's in-line 5-cylinder, bi-turbo design is one of the most powerful and, at the same time, most efficient diesel power units in motorsport.
On extremely hot stages, where ambient temperatures neared 60 degrees Celsius, the new cooling concept paid dividends for the extreme prototype from Wolfsburg. Thanks to improved air flow and an optimised radiator the Race Touareg 3 shrugged off the boiling heat in Chile's Atacama Desert and the extreme conditions in the notorious dunes in the Sierras Pampeanas around Fiambalá in Argentina. Reliability combined with speed - on every terrain Volkswagen demonstrated its technical expertise during the 2011 "Dakar".
KTM 1-2 again as Depres and Coma fight it out
In one of sport's greatest and most even rivalry's, Marc Coma's win in the Dakar puts him equal with fellow KTM factory rider Cyril Despres - they now have three titles each and have together dominated rally sport in recent years.
It was the Spanish rider's third Dakar title but more importantly, KTM's tenth consecutive win and a triumphant debut for the newly developed KTM 450 Rally bike ridden by all four of KTM's factory riders. The bike will yield a replica from the Austrian motorsport powerhouse with its "ready to race" motto.
Fellow KTM factory rider Cyril Despres trailed Coma by just over 15 minutes after 9600 km of competitive riding over the most challenging terrain possible, and ten of those minutes were a penalty for passing a flag on the wrong side, so it again highlights just how equal the superstars are on the track. Despres and Coma rode on equal terms throughout the 13 stages and frequently finished only minutes apart. Indeed in the penultimate stage there was only 37 second separating the two riders at the end of the day. Between them Coma and Despres took victory in eight of the 13 stages - Coma won five stages and Despres won three.
Coma was a worthy overall winner of the 33rd edition of the race that took competitors in a huge sweep through Argentina, across the Andes at 4500 m altitude into northern Chile and up to the border with Peru, over a number of stages in the notoriously dry Atacama Desert, back across the Andes and through Argentina to the finish in the capital. It was his job on Saturday to open the road on what was a comparatively short stage and all he had to do was to keep Despres under control till they got to Buenos Aires. Coma first took control of the overall standings after Stage 4 and remained in front for the remainder of the rally. He conceded 1'30 to Despres in the final stage but the title was well and truly wrapped up.
In the truck section, the result was no surprise - Kamaz has a winning formula equally as strong as KTM or Volkswagen.