Sainz reinstated as Dakar leader after organizers admit GPS error

Error in navigation system saw Spanish former champion lose more than 20 minutes

Spain's Carlos Sainz steers his Buggy during Stage 1 of the Dakar 2013.
Spain's Carlos Sainz steers his Buggy during Stage 1 of the Dakar 2013.FRANCK FIFE / AFP

Spanish rally driver Carlos Sainz was bumped up overnight from 11th place in the overall rankings of the 2013 Dakar to first place, after organizers determined that a problem with their GPS system had resulted in his puzzling loss of time.

“I can’t understand it, I can’t understand it,” were Sainz’s words as he finished Sunday’s stage, dumbfounded by his finish, 18 minutes and three seconds behind Stéphane Peterhansel, who had ostensibly won the stage.

The Red Bull Qatar team driver had not got lost in his buggy – he was convinced of that. But according to the Spaniard, who won the 2010 Dakar, it was impossible to get the GPS system to recognize that they had passed one of the obligatory waypoints along the route.

“It wasn’t a navigation problem, I’m sure of that,” he said. “We passed the waypoint three times, but it just wouldn’t work. In the end I decided to carry on, knowing that they were going to dock me an hour. And when I was least expecting it the GPS came online around six minutes from where it should have done so. I’m sure that the GPS had some kind of problem.”

And when the race organizers checked out the route taken by the Spaniard, they saw that his hunch was right.

The malfunction had seen Sainz lose 21m26s. When that time was reinstated, he became the leader once more, having already taken the win on Saturday’s much shorter stage.

Today will see him tackle the route between Pisco and Nazca, a stage that promises to be kinder to the competitors than Sunday’s. What’s more, it is not in Sainz’s interest to win today, so that he is not heading out first in on the fourth stage in Arequipa, one that is well known at the Dakar for its difficulty.

"We are learning from day to day"


The epic two-week Dakar Rally will take its competitors through Peru, Argentina and Chile, over some of the world's toughest terrain.

This year Sainz is racing with the Red Bull Qatar team, belonging to Nasser Al-Attiyah, a one-time rival of the Spaniard. The pair will be racing in a newly designed buggy, which has sparked plenty of interest among the motor-racing fraternity. EL PAÍS spoke to Sainz before the rally got underway.

Q. Have you had time to get bored while you've not been competing?

A. Absolutely not. I've been really quite busy with my life in Madrid - with my children, with Carlos [his son, also a racing driver], and with my relationship with Volkswagen. I haven't got time to get bored, quite the opposite. Sometimes I have to think about doing less, and forget about doing certain things. I often say to myself, 'Do I really need to be doing this?'

Q. Are you following the career of your son Carlos very closely?

A. Until recently I've been following him a lot. My aim this year, given that he's just turned 18, is to give him a bit more space. At that age he can travel, he can drive, he's more independent. That will also give me more time.

Q. What doesn't a gentleman from Madrid like yourself miss on an adventure such as this one?

A. There's a different kind of stress here, different from the type you get on a normal day in Madrid - there are different priorities. These two weeks will go by very quickly, you have to concentrate all of the time, and if it's your kind of thing, it's a really great challenge.

Q. The concept that people usually have of a "buggy" almost makes it sound like you're going to be having a lot of fun in this new car. But what's different about the vehicle you're competing in?

A. It's called a buggy because it's a vehicle with two-wheel drive. It's a concept that's been created in the Dakar and they are cars that can vie for a win. Having two powered wheels rather than four offers a series of advantages with regard to other cars given the current regulations: they are lighter, more powerful and you can inflate and deflate the wheels from inside. It's the type of car that will run much better than a four-wheel drive depending on the terrain.

Q. Until now you've always opted for a 4x4. Is the strategy going to be completely different with this vehicle?

A. It's not going to be any more difficult, but you have to be very clear on what you're doing. For us, this year is going to be a really tough one, and we have to get used to this new car, with which we've run very few kilometers until now. I think that we'll be learning from day to day. We have no idea as to how competitive we are.

Q. How strange has it been to be on the same team as Al-Attiyah?

A. It's his team, but it's not been strange at all. Nasser has been incredibly friendly toward me.

Q. Little more than a year ago there were calls for you to retire, but you don't look like you have any plans to do so.

A. I don't know who was calling for me to retire, the only thing I know is that last year I wasn't here because I didn't have a team. What I do know is that this is a serious program, with Red Bull and Qatar behind me, with Nasser and with me on board. We haven't come here to mess around - we are here to try to learn as much as we can with a view to the future, and if there are two or three years ahead of me, as is the case, I'll think seriously about whether I will continue, as I do after every rally. If I'm comfortable within the team, why wouldn't I carry on? What's more, I've always enjoyed developing cars, and everything about this buggy is yet to be developed.