420 racers left Buenos Aires, Argentina on Sunday January 4, 2015. Two weeks and over 9,000km later, 216 completed the soggy final stage of the Dakar Rally 2015. The course from Rosario to Buenos Aires was shortened because torrential downpours ruined the road, making it far too dangerous for the competitors. Not that they would mind because after all these people have been through, there was definitely a “come hell or high water” attitude among them. Bearing that in mind, let’s talk about the Cars stage winners, #308 Robby Gordon and Johnny Campbell. They started the race in a very good position and looked poised for a podium finish, but it didn’t turn out that way. The Speed Energy Racing Gordini was down in the standings and then up and then down again. As the rally was winding down, the Americans were doing everything within their power to get the best possible finish. This meant the chequered flag first and earning a hard-fought top twenty finish in 19th place. Fan favourites #354 Tom Coronel and #323 Guerlain Chicherit and Alexandre Winocq also arrived in Buenos Aires. Well done, guys!

On the other hand it seems as though Cars winners #301 Nasser Al-Attiyah and Matthieu Baumel were touched by the rally gods as they dominated in their Qatar Rally Team ALL4 Racing Mini. They won five stages outright and have been first overall since stage 2. Stage 2! The last driver to maintain a lead like this was Ari Vatanen in 1990, who lead throughout the entire rally. It was an astounding performance and also makes Al-Attiyah a bona fide two-time Dakar Rally winner. “From the start of the rally I always said that I wanted to make this special present for Matthieu and now we have succeeded,” Al-Attiyah said, “This Dakar has been 100% perfect for us: the car, the navigation, the team and the tyres have all been perfect. It could not have gone any better. Since last year we’ve been working very hard to prepare for this rally, and I would like to thank all my supporters, especially Red Bull and Ooredoo, for making this possible. This victory means a huge amount to me: from the start my feeling was that we were completely under control, but of course I could not relax for a second as we have seen in the past that anything can happen.” As an added bonus, it was co-driver Baumel’s birthday and surely one he’ll remember for the rest of his life!

It was a good day for the Toyota Imperial Team South Africa as both of their cars did well. #327 Leeroy Poulter and Robert Howie were runners-up on the stage, their best performance of the rally; while #303 Giniel De Villiers and Dirk Von Zitzewitz were second overall. This is De Villiers’ third runner-up finish of five Dakar Rally podiums including a win in 2009. Monster Energy Rally Raid Team’s #307 Krzysztof Holowczyc and Xavier Panseri have officially had their best Dakar ever. Holowczyc enjoyed his first podium after ten races, of those he’s endured four abandonments. This is co-driver Panseri’s first Dakar Rally. Starting out your Dakar Rally career with a podium finish isn’t too shabby and interestingly he’s not the only one to accomplish that this year, but more on that guy later. Fourth overall went to another ALL4 Racing Mini driven by #314 Erik van Loon and Wouter Rosegaar who made history as the best finishing Cars team from The Netherlands in twenty-five years since Kees and Mieke Tijsterman. Van Loon said, “My goal was a top 10 finish, which was a realistic and achievable goal. Finishing fourth is beyond my wildest dreams, but we’ve earned every bit of it ourselves by consistency and not making mistakes, although a puncture in the penultimate stage and not getting the spare wheel fitted immediately was quite a thrilling and stressful moment.”

Giniel De Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz - Dakar Rally 2015
“It’s always a relief to finish the Dakar. It represents so much work for so many people. Everyone wants to finish on the top step, but we’ve got reason to be proud of what we’ve done because we took the fight to Nasser for quite a while. He did the best race, well played. It’s a bit frustrating, but that’s racing for you. It takes several years to develop a car that can win the Dakar. After four years of existence, the Toyota Hilux has made leaps and bounds, a lot of work’s gone into it.” – #303 Giniel De Villiers (Photo Credit: Marcelo Maragni/Red Bull Content Pool)
Krzysztof Holowczyc and Xavier Panseri - Dakar Rally 2015 DAKAR 2015 FINISH
“I still just can’t believe it. I finally made it to the Dakar podium – after 10 years in this rally. I want to thank my sponsor, Monster, who made achieving this goal possible for me – and the MINI ALL4 Racing also once again proved to be a fantastic car.” – #307 Krzysztof Holowczyc and Xavier Panseri (Photo Credit: Frederic Le Floch / DPPI)

Team Peugeot Total was probably the most hyped team coming into the race. They counted on technological know-how and ace drivers with Dakar Rally pedigrees to carry on the company’s tradition of kicking serious butt in this race. However the dream team started falling apart at stage 4 when #304 Carlos Sainz and Lucas Cruz had major engine troubles that ended with their withdrawal the next day. Nobody really expected much from newbie driver Cyril Despres and experienced co-driver, Gilles Picard, in the #322 car. His first Dakar Rally on four wheels instead of two would obviously take some getting used to but the team wouldn’t waste their valuable resources on him if he didn’t have the talent and willingness to learn. According to Despres,This has been a whole new world for me. It’s like going back in time a few years to when I was making my debut on bikes. And it’s also quite hard to find yourself not fighting for the top places anymore when you’ve been used to doing so in the past. This was a high-speed learning curve for me, featuring pretty much all the conditions you could imagine and a few more that you couldn’t! I think I’ve got more stories to tell about my one Dakar in a car than I have about my last seven years on a bike… And that is something that actually I hadn’t reckoned on. When I left Buenos Aires, I had just one thing in mind: getting to the end without making any mistakes. In the end we made a few, but we still got here.”

The burden to not just finish but finish well fell upon #302 Stéphane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret. “It’s important to know how to sacrifice one year in order to prepare properly for the next one. At the start of the rally we weren’t even sure that we would get past the second day and now we’re here at the finish without any major technical problems,” Peterhansel aka ‘Monsieur Dakar’ said, “I also made some mistakes; we should have been better placed overall. The PEUGEOT 2008 DKR has very big potential but what I also saw over the last 15 days was an entire team, mechanics, and engineers who were truly motivated to give us the best possible chance – and that is great news for the future. We’ve got a long list of tasks and enormous scope for improvement. I’m sure we’ll be fighting for victory next year.” They ultimately finished just outside the top ten in 11th place.

The final Bikes stage produced a 1-2 Slovakian finish. #21 Ivan Jakes of the Jakes Dakar Team was first to finish the abbreviated stage in 00:52:06, followed by Slovnaft Team’s #18 Stefan Svitko. They were 8th and 5th overall respectively. Australian #26 Toby Price was third on both leader boards for the Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team. Like the aforementioned Xavier Panseri, this is Price’s first Dakar Rally and I’m excited to see what he will accomplish in the years ahead. Team HRC’s #7 Paulo Goncalves was the overall runner-up. This is the first podium of his career and a great way to forget last year’s abandonment when his bike went up in flames. Of course winning would have been better but the time he needed to make-up to catch Red Bull KTM Factory Rally Team’s #1 Marc Coma kept growing instead of shrinking.

The only rider who could have caught Coma was #2 Joan Barreda Bort whose lead evaporated in stage 8. After that disappointment, Barreda Bort committed himself to helping Goncalves along with the rest of Team HRC. This included giving Goncalves his engine during the second marathon stage, and taking #12 Jeremias Israel Esquerre’s engine after the Chilean decided to withdraw. Now that’s what I call teamwork! Another feather in Team HRC’s cap was the excellent performance by #29 Laia Sanz. She was 9th overall and undoubtedly continues to inspire a generation of female riders. Yamaha Factory Racing Rally Team Yamalub’s #3 Olivier Pain was 10th and one of only three non-KTM bikes in the top ten. Although some of those KTMs weren’t from the factory team it speaks volumes about the manufacturer in general.

Marc Coma - Dakar Rally 2015
“We had to change our strategy completely and push, and after that the rhythm of the race changed completely. We knew it was a long race, we knew that managing the marathon stages was very important, and I think that at that point we made the the pace was high all the time. We tried to come back to the top of the classification. We worked very well together and this is the reason why year after year we are here fighting for the victory. It’s amazing. Not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined this would happen in my lifetime. Of course it’s a great feeling. Now it’s time to enjoy this achievement with family, friends, the team, because we have spent a lot of energy on this!” – #1 Marc Coma (Photo Credit: Flavien Duhamel/Red Bull Content Pool)
Paulo Goncalves - Dakar Rally 2015
“I think the whole team deserves this result, especially after all the hard work that they have done. All that’s needed now is to go one small step further and win the rally. We are well-prepared and on the right track. I’m pleased with the result, and I want to thank the whole team, but most especially my team-mates Joan, Hélder and Jere, who were there to help me out in the most delicate moments. If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be on the podium here in Dakar.” – #7 Paulo Goncalves (Photo Source: http://rally.hondaracingcorporation.com)
Toby Price - Dakar Rally 2015
“It started pouring 70 kilometres into the stage. It was extremely tough to keep going. Then, they shortened the special. Being here in third place is insane! I’m at a loss for words. When I decided to sign up three or four months ago, I was quite nervous, I didn’t know what I was getting into. And now I’m on the finish line… happy.” – #26 Toby Price (Photo Credit: RallyZone Bauer/Barni)
Laia Sanz - Dakar Rally 2015
“I’m very happy. Really! If they had offered me a top-ten finish before the race, I would have signed. Many said that it was plausible, but the Dakar is a highly-unpredictable, difficult and risky race. You’ve got to have your wits about you all the time. It’s a great result that I want to share it with the whole team, who have put their trust in me from the first moment, giving me this great chance, and also with the fans and followers who been with me all the way through. ¡Muchas gracias!” – #29 Laia Sanz (Photo Source: http://rally.hondaracingcorporation.com)

South Africa’s #286 Willem Saaijman capped off his first Dakar Rally with a stage win only six seconds ahead of Frenchman #260 Christophe Declerck. #270 Daniel Domaszewski thrilled his home crowd by crossing the finish line three seconds later. It’s great that these guys got a chance to shine because truth be told none of them had a chance of catching overall winner #251 Rafal Sonik. He had an enormous lead going into the final stage and frankly it was a long time coming. This was his sixth consecutive Dakar Rally. The Pole has made the podium twice, both 3rd place finishes but this is his first win. He knows exactly how it feels to be hours behind a class leader but here he was the rider everybody was chasing, and I daresay it felt pretty darned good. The second place on the podium was occupied by Argentine teenager #261 Jeremias González Ferioli while Bolivia’s #283 Walter Nosiglia was 3rd.

Rafal Sonik - Dakar Rally 2015
“I’ve been looking forward to this moment for seven years and I never stopped believing. This victory’s for everyone who dreams of the Dakar but can’t take part in it. I want to share this victory with all the people in my team, who’ve never stopped dreaming of the Dakar. I think they deserve this victory too.” – #251 Rafal Sonik (Photo Source: http://www.yamaha-racing.com)

Petronas Team De Rooy Iveco’s #504 Hans Stacey was first on the final stage which brings their tally to four in this race alone. That’s the most he’s ever won in a single Dakar Rally including his 2007 victory. #509 Marcel Van Vliet was 00:01:21 behind him in the Eurol/Veka Rally Team’s Man truck. Third place on the stage but first overall was new Dakar Rally winner #507 Ayrat Mardeev. He led the Kamaz Master Team podium sweep with 2013 winner #502 Eduard Nikolaev in second place, followed by last year’s champion #500 Andrey Karginov. Now they have one win each, it’ll be fun to see what happens next year. Speaking of next year, I’d be more surprised if we don’t see #501 Gerard De Rooy racing than any of these guys. Although he managed a top ten finish, this 9th place is actually his worst Dakar final result. Granted he abandoned twice but of his eight finishes, 6th was his lowest result and that was from his very first race in 2006. I think we’ll be seeing that green Iveco truck flying to the podium again in 2016. Also kudos to 4th overall #503 Ales Loprais who gave the Russians a hard time at certain points in his Instaforex Loprais Eurol Veka Man. Loprais is another driver we’ll have to look out for next year too.

Ayrat Mardeev - Dakar Rally 2015
“This victory is dedicated to my father who passed away six months ago. Because of his involvement with Kamaz Master I grew up knowing how special the Dakar was – he would tell me stories when he came home from racing in Africa. He taught me how important it was to work as a team at this race and so much more. He finished on the podium twice, but never got to win the race himself. Now I know he’s looking down on us here and smiling about another Kamaz victory, and the Mardeev name on the winning trophy. Now we have Eduard (Nikolaev), Andrey (Karginov) and myself with a Dakar win under our belts. It’s great to be able to repay the huge faith show in us when we became the new drivers just a few years ago. This time we are just a part of another great result for Kamaz, we have six other team members on the podium and we also have the crew of Dmitry (Sotnikov) in fifth.” – #507 Ayrat Mardeev (Photo Credit: Marcelo Maragni/Red Bull Content Pool)

It was exhaustingly fun to bring the Dakar Rally to you again this year. I hope you enjoyed it too. Tell us who you want us to focus on next year and we’ll be sure to keep track of your favourites throughout the race. I’d like to extend a word of thanks to the race teams for keeping us connected with the competitors and providing spectacular images to make us feel a part of the action. The A.S.O. did a great job keeping the information flowing and I encourage you to check out their online resources to relive the race over and over again:

Website: http://www.dakar.com/
Smartphone apps: http://www.dakar.com/dakar/2015/fr/application-mobile.html
Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/dakar
Google+: https://plus.google.com/u/0/103556237880125980314/posts
Twitter: https://twitter.com/dakar
Instagram: http://instagram.com/dakarrally/
Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/dakarrally
Email: http://www.aso.fr/newsletter/dakar/index.php

Featured Image: P-20150117-00059, Nasser Al-Attiyah and Matthieu Baumel celebrate their victory on the podium of Technopolis on the Rally Dakar 2015 in Buenos Aires, Argentina on January 17th, 2015 // Flavien Duhamel/Red Bull Content Pool // P-20150117-00059 // Usage for editorial use only // Please go to www.redbullcontentpool.com for further information. //