Back to the Future: The First Loop Stage of The Dakar Rally 2020 Throws Down the Gauntlet

The end of Day 3 at the Dakar Rally 2020 means that surviving competitors have now completed one quarter of the ultimate Rally-Raid Event. Although that is of course an achievement in itself, today the Dakar showed its teeth with more competitors being forced to retire through either injury or mechanical issues.

The Dakar has a way of constantly throwing up surprises – which is what makes it such a compelling event to participate in and to follow. Today, some of the leading contenders in each category lost significant chunks of time due to having to correct navigational errors.

Given that Stage 3 both began and ended in the same city – Neom (or “new future”) – it might be expected that navigation would be simpler – but the Dakar did not become legendary by being easy to complete.

Neom is a brand-new, $500 billion project to create a city of the future on the Red Sea coast. For some competitors, sadly, the future is looking a little bleaker after their withdrawal during an exhilarating Stage that caused competitors to expect the unexpected. The leads in the Bike, Car and SSV Categories all changed hands as some competitors failed to master the sand and rocks.

Terence Marsh, CEO of Motul-backed Red-Lined Motoring Adventures, professed that he was satisfied after another very solid Stage from his team.

“Thomas and Patrick completed today’s Stage in a little under five hours, meaning that they came home in 40th position in the Car Category,” he explained. “That has lifted us 6 places in the General Classification, to 44th position overall,” added Marsh.

Day 3 involved 77km of liaison and some 427km of special, with competitors following an anticlockwise loop away from the Red Sea and into the northern Saudi Arabian desert, before heading back to the coast. The scenery alone made this Stage worth the detour: rolling red dunes and towering cliffs of rock forming narrow valleys.

Perhaps the distracting beauty of the scenery accounted for some of the navigational errors that happened during the Day, with even experienced Dakar Legends falling prey to the alluring mysteries of the desert. Even the organisers were not immune to glitches today: a technical problem affected GPS units in the Bike Category, leading to a revision to the results.

Rather than use the finish line times for riders, the organisers have instead decided to take the times from waypoint 53, after 389km of the Stage. Original by Motul competitor Stuart Gregory (100) lost time today for a different reason: “I stopped to help a fellow rider who was injured and waiting with him for the medical helicopter cost me about 15 minutes,” he explained, with characteristic modesty. “Otherwise, all is going strong on my side,” he added.

After stopping to help a second injured rider towards the end of the Stage, Gregory was “given back” the total of 32 minutes he had sacrificed. Under the rules of the Dakar – which place an emphasis on sportsmanship and camaraderie, time lost by “Good Samaritans” is always adjusted for.

This meant that Gregory actually came 13th in the Original by Motul Category on Stage 3, an excellent result that saw him leap up the General Classification to 15th place – ahead of 3 of the 4 Dakar Legends in the Original by Motul Category.

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