Nasser Al-Attiyah, the champion who always smiles, wins his fifth Dakar | Sports

Nasser Al-Attiyah (Doha, Qatar, 52 years old) has only needed to manage the leadership of the Dakar 2023 to proclaim himself the winner of the event for the fifth time, the second in a row. The Toyota driver took advantage of the bad luck of his rivals and the reliability of his partnership with Mathieu Baumel, his co-driver, and the Japanese brand to lift his second crown in Saudi Arabia after crossing the country in 45h03m15s. He is now the second driver with the most Touaregs in car history behind Stéphane Peterhansel, who has won eight on four wheels and another six on motorcycles.

The lack of emotion does not detract from the Qatari, tenacious like few others. In the last 14 editions of the rally he has been on the podium 11 times. The rest have left. “Here you can never relax. I work hard every day to keep everything in its place”, comments the winner, one of the most recognizable personalities in the bivouac. “This means a lot to me, to my people and my country.” Al-Attiyah, as he did last year, plans to return to Qatar in his own car with the companion trophy. “I enjoy it. It’s nice to be with something you love and come home together, ”he confesses. He doesn’t mind rounding up to 9,000 the number of kilometers covered after the last two weeks traversing Saudi Arabia. The neighboring country – although not a friend of the emirate and the emir, a relative of his – suits him well: two victories and two second places since his debut in 2020.

In this edition, from the sixth stage, when the Audis from Monsieur Dakar -as Peterhansel is known- and Carlos Sainz had an accident simultaneously and suddenly, he has had no rival less than an hour away. He has dedicated himself to managing the comfortable cushion of him at the front of the race, a situation that he already dominated last year, when Sébastien Loeb pushed him even harder. The Frenchman, a new record for consecutive victories in the rally (6), lost all his options between the second and third stages, when three punctures and a rollover delayed him by more than two hours in the general classification. Guerlain Chicherit won the last special of 136 km, where no one had much at stake. Luca Moraes, a 32-year-old Brazilian rookie, completed the podium at the finish line in Dammam. Even Al-Attiyah acknowledged that he prefers to compete more: “God willing, the next race will be closer.”

In the absence of fights, the Qatari displayed his usual good humor among friends and strangers. He always draws a smile and never lacks time to greet and attend to the requests of anyone, from journalists to fans. “Nasser is someone unique. He tries to take care of everyone. If you are cold, he gives you his jacket, if you need something in the middle of the desert, he tries to get it somehow ”, praises Baumel, his French co-pilot. They have known each other since 2006 and have been working together in the cabin for nine years. Not much is known about Al-Attiyah about his personal life, reserved and respected by his closest entourage.

A Catalan, Jordi Vidal, has been working as his personal assistant for six years. “He is very calm, I have never seen him yell at anyone. He doesn’t get nervous. It seems that he is in a test, not in a competition ”, he assures. The pilot owns a farmhouse with a dirt circuit in Castellfollit del Boix (Barcelona), a town of half a thousand inhabitants where he takes the opportunity to relax and train young talents. He spends most of the year traveling, and in addition to his career in the world of motorsports, he participates in clay pigeon shooting competitions, a discipline where he won an Olympic bronze in London 2012: “He knows all the cultures, people from around the world, and this opens you up to others. He likes to make friends wherever he goes.

As a driver, his teammates and rivals highlight his regularity, although when the race is not smiling on him, he is capable of bringing out all his voracity. “He is a very nice guy, but when it comes to competing he does whatever it takes to win,” says Sainz, who has developed a rivalry over the years that has led them to collide in more than one test . Baumel praises his ability to not force mechanics, noting that he is always able to get an extra point when he has to push. It was not necessary in the 2023 Dakar, where Al-Attiyah had a good ride in the second week until crossing the Dammam finish line victorious.

You can follow EL PAÍS Sports on Facebook Y Twitteror sign up here to receive our weekly newsletter.