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Top 10 Dakar Rally competitors of 2020

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Top 10 Dakar Rally competitors of 2020
By:
Co-author: David Gruz
Jan 20, 2020, 12:43 PM

Motorsport.com ranks the standout performers of the first-ever Dakar Rally to be held in Saudi Arabia.

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10. Ross Branch

10. Ross Branch
1/10

Photo by: A.S.O.

#18 KTM 450: Botswana Ross Branch

Bas Dakar KTM Racing Team

Bikes class: 21st, 1 stage win

Non-factory riders winning stages in the bike class is not a particularly frequent occurrence in the modern Dakar, which is why Branch going quickest on the second day was a genuine shock.

The rider from Botswana, riding a KTM for the Bas Dakar team, was the top rookie last year and delivered further on that promise this time around.

Admittedly, the stage win was a bit of an outlier as he didn't show marathon-winning potential for the rest of the rally, but he was very much on par with most of the factory riders.

He lost nearly four hours in two days, first riding with an injured shoulder following a crash in Stage 3 and then suffering a puncture two days later. Without those, Branch would have been firmly in top-five contention, on par with the likes of former champion Matthias Walkner.

If KTM wants to refresh its line-up with some new talent to counter Honda's rise, Branch would be a perfect candidate.

Previous top 10 record - 2016 (N/A), 2017 (N/A), 2018 (N/A), 2019 (N/A)

9. Casey Currie

9. Casey Currie
2/10

Photo by: Motul

#405 Can-Am Maverick: United States Casey Currie, South Africa Sean Berriman

Monster Energy Can-Am

SxS class: 1st

When five drivers were separated by just 7m30s after four days of competition, the SxS class looked on course to deliver an almighty scrap for victory that would go down to the wire.

Yet over the next few days contenders dropped away one by one, and when the second week had just commenced the race had got its runaway leader.

Currie was almost certainly not the fastest outright in the pack - that honour would go to either reigning champion Francisco 'Chaleco' Lopez or one of the Red Bull-run young guns in the Overdrive OT3s - but as much more experienced competitors faltered around him, the Dakar sophomore and new co-driver/"psychiatrist" Sean Berriman kept up their speed with little ado.

Previous top 10 record - 2016 (N/A), 2017 (N/A), 2018 (N/A), 2019 (N/A)

8. Andrey Karginov

8. Andrey Karginov
3/10

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

#511 Kamaz 43509: Russian Federation Andrey Karginov, Russian Federation Andrey Mokeev, Russian Federation Igor Leonov

Kamaz Master

Trucks class: 1st, 7 stage wins

Disqualified from the 2019 event after his truck hit an unsighted spectator, Karginov tasted redemption in Saudi Arabia as he became a two-time champion of the race.

A glance at the pre-event entry list suggested his biggest rivals were always going to come from within the Kamaz stable, and once Dmitry Sotnikov and Eduard Nikolaev dropped off early on, Karginov was likely to get priority over the much less experienced Anton Shibalov.

Still, given the first-week dramas suffered by his squadmates, Karginov deserves plenty of credit for keeping his composure as the team leader - and the fact he racked up six stage wins in the last seven stages despite frequently opening the road suggests he would've probably had this marathon won either way.

Previous top 10 record - 2016 (N/A), 2017 (N/A), 2018 (N/A), 2019 (N/A)

7. Mathieu Serradori

7. Mathieu Serradori
4/10

Photo by: A.S.O.

#315 Century CR6 Buggy: France Mathieu Serradori, Belgium Fabian Lurquin

SRT Racing

Cars class: 8th, 1 stage win

Contesting his fifth Dakar after three attempts on a bike and a short-lived debut in cars in 2019, Serradori was already having a pretty good 2020 run even before he became the first 'amateur' entrant to win a stage in over three decades.

Mind you, the race proved just as much an advert for Century Racing's petrol-engined CR6 buggy - clearly a serious piece of kit - as it did for its crew, but Serradori and his family-run SRT outfit looked entirely at home taking on some very big names from cross-country rallying all throughout the event.

A couple of lucky breaks may have even seen him fight for a top-five finish, but he will likely not have traded that for that fastest time he set in the 477km loop around Wadi ad-Dawasir. While road position may have helped on that day, it alone does not account for the four-minute winning margin over none other than Fernando Alonso.

Previous top 10 record - 2016 (N/A), 2017 (N/A), 2018 (N/A), 2019 (N/A)

6. Toby Price

6. Toby Price
5/10

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

#1 KTM 450: Australia Toby Price

Red Bull KTM Factory Racing

Bikes class: 3rd, 2 stage wins

When an 18-win streak is finally snapped, there's no way you can be content with your result, and there can be no exception for KTM and its lead rider Price.

At the same time, he was by all accounts one of the best riders of the 2020 Dakar Rally and the benchmark for his Austrian employer.

The combination of Price and KTM was as fast as Brabec and Honda but consistency, which has been the Honda riders' problem for the longest time, this time evaded Price.

A few minor problems, including an eight-minute stoppage and a loss of another 16, just about explain his final deficit of 24m06s to Brabec.

Previous top 10 record - 2016 (P1), 2017 (N/A), 2018 (N/A), 2019 (P2)

5. Stephane Peterhansel

5. Stephane Peterhansel
6/10

Photo by: A.S.O.

#302 Mini John Cooper Works Buggy: France Stephane Peterhansel, Portugal Paulo Fiuza

Bahrain JCW X-raid Team

Cars class: 3rd, 4 stage wins

If you would've offered Peterhansel third place and four stage wins pre-rally, he would've taken it.

After all, not only would it represent a marked improvement on the 2019 crash that injured his then co-driver David Castera, but it would've meant that he successfully gelled with his new co-driver Paulo Fiuza, drafted in on late notice following the health-related withdrawal of his wife Andrea.

And yet it absolutely could've been more. Peterhansel had probably the messiest marathon among the car class' "big three", and still finished within 10 minutes of the win.

Still, Andrea's enforced exit probably felt much worse than missing out on the win, and with Peterhansel admitting that he was only still in the race at all because "it was necessary, for sponsors and BMW [Mini owner]", you have to wonder if this may have been his final Dakar hurrah.

If it wasn't, he's clearly got more stage wins and titles left in him. But if it was, it was a good way to sign off.

Previous top 10 record - 2016 (P2), 2017 (P2), 2018 (P8), 2019 (P10)

4. Pablo Quintanilla

4. Pablo Quintanilla
7/10

Photo by: Husqvarna

#5 Husqvarna FR 450 Rally: Chile Pablo Quintanilla

Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing

Bikes class: 2nd, 2 stage wins

Dakar's move to Saudi Arabia shook up the pecking order in bikes - some teams and riders were less competitive, others became better - but Quintanilla remained a steady presence at the top end of the timesheets.

Not only Husqvarna's sole contender for victory, Quintanilla was also virtually the only rider able to put pressure on the impeccable Brabec and at least close the gap to the American with two stage wins on the last four days.

The runner-up spot is still his career-best Dakar result and, perhaps more importantly, he helped Husqvarna see off sister brand KTM for the first time.

The title is getting oh-so-close now for team and rider. Quintanilla and Husqvarna one day stealing the crown from KTM and Honda would be a fitting culmination of their slow-but-steady rise.

Previous top 10 record - 2016 (N/A), 2017 (N/A), 2018 (N/A), 2019 (P6)

3. Carlos Sainz

3. Carlos Sainz
8/10

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

#305 Mini John Cooper Works Buggy: Spain Carlos Sainz, Spain Lucas Cruz

Bahrain JCW X-raid Team

Cars class: 1st, 4 stage wins

Credited with leading the development on the Mini buggy's suspension, Sainz reaped the rewards of its transformation into the benchmark of the Dakar field.

His run was not perfect, and in different circumstances - for example, if the Toyota was as competitive as expected, or if teammate Peterhansel wasn't forced into a late co-driver switch - getting stuck on stage eight and then getting lost on stage nine could have cost him the rally.

But his main rivals returned the favour with navigational errors of their own, and Sainz didn't give them a second chance to get back into the fight, bringing the buggy home for his third win with a third different manufacturer.

And whatever the mitigating circumstances, in the end going toe to toe with and seeing off both the Dakar's greatest-ever competitor and the best rally-raid driver of the past few years in a three-way epic is an achievement that would be at the top of any driver's CV - even that of someone as accomplished as Sainz.

Previous top 10 record - 2016 (P4), 2017 (N/A), 2018 (P2), 2019 (N/A)

2. Nasser Al-Attiyah

2. Nasser Al-Attiyah
9/10

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

#300 Toyota Hilux: Qatar Nasser Al-Attiyah, France Mathieu Baumel

Toyota Gazoo Racing

Cars class: 2nd, 1 stage win

Going into the 2020 Dakar, you would've probably bet on Al-Attiyah either winning or not making the finish, with any result in between the least likely option of the three.

Second place was clearly not what he or Toyota came to this race for, and both Al-Attiyah and the team openly admitted that they had underestimated the threat of the Mini buggies.

Maybe Al-Attiyah should've won it anyway, as the six-minute gap to Sainz at the end was certainly less than he'd lost to punctures early on, and less than he'd given up when getting lost while shadowing Peterhansel on the third-to-last stage.

Yet even with that Al-Attiyah was still head and shoulders above the rest of the Toyota contingent, and the only driver capable of preventing a complete X-raid walkover. And though he didn't add a fourth Dakar title, it's safe to say his claim to being the best rally-raid driver there is right now is very much intact.

Previous top 10 record - 2016 (P8), 2017 (N/A), 2018 (P6), 2019 (P3)

1. Ricky Brabec

1. Ricky Brabec
10/10

Photo by: Honda Racing

#9 Honda CRF 450 Rally: United States Ricky Brabec

Monster Energy Honda Team

Bikes class: 1st, 2 stage wins

Helder Rodrigues, Paulo Goncalves,  Joan Barreda, Kevin Benavides. Those were just some of the riders who would come increasingly close to ending KTM's ever-ballooning Dakar streak over the past decade, as the Austrian manufacturer faced stiffer competition but just kept eking out wins.

In 2019, Brabec had maybe come closest, having held a substantial lead with three days to go, only for his engine to say 'arrivederci' and help KTM hang on for another year.

Having a great shot at a maiden Dakar snatched away like that should've weighed heavily on Brabec's mind throughout 2019, as well as during the two weeks of the 2020 follow-up. And maybe it did - but there was no suggestion of it in the split times, as the American assumed the top spot, checked out to the tune of 20 minutes over the opening week and managed his lead like a seasoned veteran from then on.

Brabec himself readily admits that having his very capable Honda squadmates' support helped a lot, as did the terrain - given his Cali desert racer roots. But there were still a good 40 hours over which to buckle under the immense pressure created by his employer's repeat Dakar near-misses, and he never came anywhere near doing so.

Previous top 10 record - 2016 (N/A), 2017 (N/A), 2018 (N/A), 2019 (1st)

Sainz proud to have surmounted Mini "handicap"

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Series Dakar
Event Dakar
Author Valentin Khorounzhiy