DAKAR – Sports – The 2023 Dakar Rally has finally reached its midway Rest Day following eight gruelling stages through Saudi Arabia. Flooding on the race track had rally organisers thinking on their feet and taking the convoy of competitors on an improvised route to Riyadh. Despite hostile weather conditions we’ve still had over 2,500 kilometres of racing against the clock and a truckload of dramatic stories along the way. Let’s assess the leaderboards at the halfway point of this Dakar…
The bike race lost defending champion Sam Sunderland on Stage One, the British rider retired due to a broken shoulder blade sustained during a crash. It has been Husqvarna biker Skyler Howes who has led the way for most of the Dakar’s first week and the American holds top spot at the Rest Day.
Just 13 seconds back from Howes are Kevin Benavides of Red Bull KTM Factory Racing and Mason Klein. The fact that these two bikers have exactly the same time after eight Dakar stages tells us something about the strange nature of the rally this year.
“It was fun to finish the stage riding as a big group in the dunes. Now we want to do our best in the second week.” – Kevin Benavides
Just 2m58s off the lead and in fourth overall is Benavides’s KTM team-mate Toby Price. Matthias Walkner, the third Red Bull KTM Factory Racing biker, is also in the Top 10.
“This was a really long and hard day. I was really at my maximum and I cannot do more.” – Matthias Walkner
Daniel Sanders of Red Bull GASGAS Factory Racing led the rally after three stages, but illness has seen him fall to seventh overall. The Australian will use the Rest Day to recover his strength ahead of the second week of the rally.
“It was wet this morning so we had to get the googles on to get through all the mist.” – Daniel Sanders
Looking to push into the Top 10 next week is privateer Štefan Svitko, while Mohammed Balooshi remains on course to reach the Dakar Rally’s finish line for the fourth time.
“This was the first day that I didn’t make a mistake or crash so I’m really happy for that.” – Mohammed Balooshi
There’s plenty for defending car race champion Nasser Al-Attiyah to smile about as the rally comes to standstill for one day. The four-time Dakar winner, his co-driver Mathieu Baumel and their Toyota Hilux GR DKR T1+ have been in perfect harmony this week. The nearest car race rival remains over an hour behind Al-Attiyah after eight stages.
“Next week we will have a lot of dunes, I’m looking forward to it, I’m coming home!” – Nasser Al-Attiyah
Not only is rookie Lucas Moraes competing with Al-Attiyah for the biggest smile in the bivouac, the Brazilian is also one of the Qatari’s closest challengers. Moraes and his experienced co-driver Timo Gottschalk are third overall.
“I could never imagine the Dakar would be as hard as it is. Now we’ve reached the Rest Day in third overall and we want to keep things going like this.” – Lucas Moraes
A pair of car crews with their eyes on removing Moraes from the overall podium are Sébastien Loeb/Fabian Lurquin and Giniel De Villiers/Dennis Murphy. These Dakar heavyweights are fourth and fifth respectively and will be on the attack in the second week.
“We tried to make it a big push today. The stage was not so easy and our navigation was good.” – Sébastien Loeb
Elsewhere in the car race the crews of Kuba Przygoński/Armand Monleon and Laia Sanz/Maurizio Gerini have brought their new machines to the Rest Day bivouac in Riyadh.
“I hope next week we can show a strong rhythm until the end.” – Laia Sanz
It’s been a week to forget at the Dakar for Team Audi Sport. However, despite their troubles and the retirement of Stéphane Peterhansel/Edouard Boulanger they do still have two Audi RS Q e-tron E2 cars in the race. Expect to see Carlos Sainz/Lucas Cruz and Mattias Ekström/Emil Bergkvist pushing for stage wins in week two.
“The whole team have suffered many problems. Things haven’t gone our way, but I’m happy to still be here and driving.” – Carlos Sainz
Stage Eight gave us a taste of the battle we can expect to see at the front of the T3 race in the second week of the Dakar. Guillaume De Mevius/François Cazaletmaintained their overall lead of the category, but know the pressure will be on from Tuesday onwards.
“It’s been a good first week. Now we’ll see what happens in the long second week that is still to come.” – Guillaume De Mevius
It’s AJ Jones/Gustavo Gugelmin of the Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team USA presented by BFGoodrich who are closest to De Mevius in the overall, their Can-Am is just 3m19s off the lead.
“I’m happy that it’s Rest Day tomorrow, this one’s been tough. My plan is to sleep until at least 9am and then eat a lot of food.” – AJ Jones
Jones’s team-mates Seth Quintero/Dennis Zenz have given themselves a double mission for the second week at this Dakar. They want to do everything they can to chase down the leader, and they also want to protect their Can-Am’s spot on the overall podium.
“We’ve got a lot of racing left. I’m probably going to turn up the pace a little bit in the second week and see what happens.” – Seth Quintero
The third Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team USA presented by BFGoodrich crew of Mitch Guthrie Jr./Kellon Walch have endured an up and down first week in their T3-M by MCE5 machine. Three stage wins have been celebrated, but also a tough Stage Five cost them their chances of an overall victory.
“We’re still here and have three stage wins. The car is running trouble-free except for Stage Five so I’m really happy with how the rally has been going.” – Mitch Guthrie Jr.
Also keeping himself in the T3 mix is three-time quad race champion Ignacio Casale. A strong end to the first week has put the Chilean, his co-driver Alvaro Leon and their Yamaha YXZ 1000 inside the Top 10.
“Today was another good stage for us and we’re looking forward to the second week of the rally.” – Ignacio Casale
The Red Bull Can-Am Factory Team have defending T3 champions Chaleco López/Juan Pablo Latrach plus Cristina Gutiérrez/Pablo Moreno in fourth and fifth overall. Both these crews will capitalise on any slip ups in front of them to replicate last year’s podium finishes.
Rokas Baciuška and co-driver Oriol Mena are also representing the Red Bull Can-Am Factory Team. This duo lead the T4 contest at this Dakar and are laser-focussed on finishing what they’ve started next week.
“The Dakar is really popular in my country and people sacrifice a lot to come here to watch the rally. The fans give me lots of motivation to keep doing my best.” – Rokas Baciuška
Now the Dakar’s competitors and their engines will remain stationary for 24 hours. The Rest Day is a chance to recover some sleep and also tune up the vehicles for the second week of the Dakar. The six stages left to go feature dunes all the way to the finish line in Damman. Everyone can rest assured that there’s plenty more drama to come at the 2023 Dakar Rally.