Dakar: Carlos Sainz Crash & Peugeot Dominance

The ‘ol tuck n’ roll can be useful in things like skateboarding or judo, but in motorsports it usually means a yard sale of expensive parts. Carlos Sainz knows that better than any of us, but just the same he crashed out of the 2017 Dakar Rally in spectacular fashion. Fan footage appears to show his Peugeot 3008 hitting a rut or rock on the inside of a turn. Given the amount of suspension travel and Sainz’ reflexes, it must have been bigger than any video makes it out to be. It may have been a bit too much rotation of the car, drawing it a bit to close to the inside of the turn. The car is already fully sideways when it enters the frame.

In any event, all motorsport that use public roads or natural terrain will have the “small mistake, big consequence” equation… an equation that never seems to add up. I believe this is true because we use the equation only while tumbling end-over-end at high speed, seeing visions of our childhood flash before our eyes. Math aside, the below video clearly shows what happens when you miss by a foot while playing a game of inches. Neither crew member was injured.

The original report came as something like “Sainz crashed, overturned in ditch” or similar.  What actually happened was he and co-driver Lucas Cruz cartwheeled down a ravine, as you no doubt noticed. Amazingly, the team managed to have four inflated wheels that pointed in the same direction by the time help arrived. They actually received a tow and finished the stage two hours adrift (any landing you can walk away from…). Alas, the damage was too great for crews to repair overnight and Stage 05 is already complete… without Carlos and Lucas.

On the plus side, two spectators are still with us after being pummeled by debris and having the Peugeot nearly take them down the ravine with it. When you plan where to spectate from, leave the bravado behind folks. Bravado is a fancy word for “I don’t want to think about it.” Standing on the outside of a corner is perfectly acceptable 99 times of 100. You just don’t get to pick which of the 100 times you are standing there.

Their reward for nearly being wiped out? This crappy cellphone video, shot in portrait mode of course. I would not expect someone who stands on the outside of a turn to shoot in landscape. In fairness, they knew they were in trouble the second Sainz came into view, so at least they were not sitting in chairs, clinking cerveza.

As ugly as the carnage looked, Sainz has experience tearing the ends off of Peugeots. In 2016 he managed to do it on flatter ground and continue (check that one out at the bottom), but this is the fifth withdrawal for the Spaniard. It is definitely hard to watch, as Sainz is a huge name in a team full of huge names. Competition within the team must be very strong. As a race fan I am personally stuck with feeling bad for his wreck while also being pleased that part of the Peugeot juggernaut is removed. They have been turning themselves into an impenetrable wall the last two years. While Toyota is upping their game immensely (look at the Hilux from four years ago and tell me the current one is not a hardcore racing machine), Mini seems hamstrung.

The Hilux has quietly become a beast over the past several years.
The Hilux has quietly become a beast over the past several years. Source: RedBull Content.

You can bury your nose in the rulebook, but suffice to say that Mini and Toyota both run four-wheel-drive, and have a heavier minimum weight. Two-wheel-drives are allowed to be much lighter. This year Dakar allowed a larger intake diameter (+2mm) for the 4WD and restricted the Peugeot by 1mm. While that helps in a straight line, power and weight exist in many circumstances. If you are following the rally, you are seeing the result. Light makes right when you are pounding through riverbeds and skating sideways along sand dunes.

Mini has made a long-term commitment to Rally Raid. Will they find their way back to the front? Mikko Hrivonen (above) was lost on Stage 05 and is now over 40min adrift. Source: Dakar

Mini is in it for the long run, as is Toyota and Peugeot, but with tweaks to the rules every year, there is a strong chance Peugeot could claw back performance by way of the pen in 2018. Five days into a two week rally there are only four cars with any chance of a win. Three are Peugeot. Crashes have taken out some. Navigation errors others. It’s not all about the cars, maaaan. But there is the essence of Dakar. Every year is different. Preparation means so much, and individual decisions have so much weight as well. If you haven’t studied the rules, you have lost before you create your first CAD model. If you fail to prepare your road book meticulously, you are lost. If you second guess your turn-in or misjudge just a little… all is lost. At least until next year.

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