Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar made up for the heartbreak of last year by finally winning his first Dakar Rally title on Saturday 15 January and becoming the first Arab champion of the world's toughest rally.
Al-Attiyah (in a Volkswagen Touareg) only had to avoid mistakes on the 13th and last stage, a 181km sprint on gravel from Cordoba to the Baradero race track, to win the Dakar at his sixth attempt.
Giniel de Villers of South Africa, the 2009 champ and also in a Touareg, finished 49m41s behind Al-Attiyah for second overall. Meanwhile their teammate Carlos Sainz actually won the 13th stage, and his seventh this year, to hold onto third - 1h20m38 back.
Some comfort for Sainz, who lost over an hour on the third last stage when he hit a hole and damaged his front suspension, was the superb achievement of winning seven of the stages, including the first two and the last two. Al-Attiyah, second in 2010, won four stages and De Villiers won one to take his all-time Dakar stage wins to 13.
Fourth overall and 1h33m48 in arrears was France's Stephane Peterhansel in a BMW X3, making it four Dakar winners in the top four. The three-times Dakar winner (he last won in a Mitsubishi in 2007) took stage five.
America's Mark Miller and South African co-driver Ralph Pitchford finished sixth overall in the fourth factory Race Touareg, 41m20s behind the BMW X3 of Polish rally champion Krzysztof Holowczyc.
They lost almost an hour when their car rolled on stage two and thereafter performed the role of backup to their teammates, including stopping to repair Sainz's front suspension on stage 11.
South Africa's Alfie Cox finished 18th overall in his Nissan Navara, 2h43m54 behind the leader. Cox had been on a mission to make up time towards the end of the race, even clinching ninth place in the last few stages.
It was Volkswagen's third successive Dakar victory with the diesel-engined Race Touareg and its most dominant performance yet with 12 stage wins out of 13.
When all was said and done, only one thing really needed to be said when an elated Al-Attiyah exclaimed: "We did it. I am so happy."
On the motorbike front, Spanish rider Marc Coma won the race for the third time and like Al-Attiyah he was all but ensured of victory going into the final stage, but Coma said even then he could not relax on his KTM.
He finished fifth in the stage, 2:16 behind winner Frans Verhoeven of Belgium. Overall, Coma ended up 15:04 ahead of defending champ Cyril Despres of France. Helder Rodrigues of Portugal was third, 1:40:20 back.
Coma, who won in 2006 and 2009, called this race "particularly difficult." Coma moved into the lead by winning the fourth stage, giving him a narrow 2-second edge on Despres. The Frenchman was later penalised 10 minutes on the stage for not following starting procedures, leaving him 10:02 behind. He never recovered.
Another notable Dakar Rally achievement was that Vladimir Chagin of Russia won a record seventh truck title, with fellow Russians Firdaus Kabirov and Ilgizar Mardeev completing the podium.
Official awards were due to be presented on Sunday 16 January in Buenos Aires, about 200km from Saturday's finish. The rally left the Argentine capital 1 January.
Argentina officials expect the race to return to their country next year although some reports suggest a new route could be formulated for 2012 with Brazil possibly being included. -IOL & Sapa-AP
STAGE 13 RESULTS: CARS
1. Carlos Sainz/Lucas Cruz (ESP/Volkswagen) 1h46m08
2. Nasser Al-Attiyah/Timo Gottschalk (QAT/GER Volkswagen) +0:38
3. Krzysztof Holowczyc/Jean-Marc Fortin (POL/BEL/BMW) +1:25
4. Giniel de Villiers/Dirk Von Zitzewitz (RSA/GER/Volkswagen) +1:58
5. Mark Miller/Ralph Pitchford (USA/RSA/Volkswagen) +2:02
6. Stephane Peterhansel/Jean-Paul Cottret (FRA/BMW) +2:57
7. Guilherme Spinelli/Youssef Haddad (BRA/Mitsubishi) +3:58
8. Erick Van Loon/Harmen Scholtabers (NED/Mitsubishi) +6:26
9. Alfie Cox/Jorgen Schroder (RSA/GER/Nissan) +8:47
10. Christian Lavieille/Jean-Michel Polato (FRA/Nissan) +8:59
FINAL STANDINGS: CARS
1. Nasser Al-Attiyah/Timo Gottschalk (QAT/GER Volkswagen) 45h04m07
2. Giniel de Villiers/Dirk Von Zitzewitz (RSA/GER/Volkswagen) +49:41
3. Carlos Sainz/Lucas Cruz (ESP/Volkswagen) +1:20:38
4. Stephane Peterhansel/Jean-Paul Cottret (FRA/BMW) +1:43:48
5. Krzysztof Holowczyc/Jean-Marc Fortin (POL/BEL/BMW) +4:11:21
6. Mark Miller/Ralph Pitchford (USA/RSA/Volkswagen) +4:54:42
7. Ricardo Leal Dos Santos/Paulo Fiuza (POR/BMW) +6:50:07
8. Christian Lavieille/Jean-Michel Polato +7:57:18
9. Guilherme Spinelli/Youssef Haddad (BRA/Mitsubishi) +8:23:37
10. Matthias Kahle/Thomas Schuenemann (GER/SMG) +15:11:56
STAGE 13 RESULTS: BIKES
1. Frans Verhoeven (NED/BMW) +1H25m07
2. Helder Rodrigues (POR/Yamaha) +0:05
3. Jean Azevedo (BRA/KTM) +0:19
4. Cyril Despres (FRA/KTM) +0:44
5. Marc Coma (ESP/KTM) +2:16
6. Henk Knuiman (NED/KTM) +2:47
7. Juan Pedrero Garcia (ESP/KTM) +3:05
8. Pal Ullevalseter (NOR/KTM) +3:51
9. Jacek Czachor (POL/KTM) +4:38
10. Miran Stanovnik (SLO/KTM) +5:16
FINAL STANDINGS: BIKES
1. Marc Coma (ESP/KTM) 51h25m00
2. Cyril Despres (FRA/KTM) +15:04
3. Helder Rodrigues (POR/Yamaha) +1:40:20
4. Francisco Lopez (CHI/Aprilia) +2:09:45
5. Juan Pedrero Garcia (ESP/KTM) +3:07:03
6. Pal Ullevalseter (NOR/KTM) +3:32:56
7. Jean Azevedo (BRA/KTM) +3:59:38
8. Ruben Faria (POR/KTM) +4:13:01
9. Alexis Cody Quinn (USA/Honda) +4:52:10
10. Jacek Czachor (POL/KTM) +6:13:41