Dakar – Sports – Just one more stage stands between the 2023 Dakar Rally convoy and the finish line in Dammam. 5,000 racing kilometres have been clocked across treacherous terrain, including the dunes of the Empty Quarter desert. Right up until the final kilometres, this edition of the Dakar is delivering drama all the way…
The bike contest is still wide open with just the last 136km to race between Al-Hofuf and Damman on tomorrow’s 14th and final stage. Right now it’s Red Bull KTM Factory Racing rider Toby Price in pole position, but his advantage is only 12 seconds as he targets his third Dakar title.
“Today I caught the guys around 90km and just thought to myself, ‘If I want to win this race, I need to be at the front and try and capture that bonus a little bit’. I’m happy, I’ve put a 100 percent in every day.” – Toby Price
The biker just a dozen seconds behind Price is another Red Bull KTM Factory Racing rider, Kevin Benavides. However, Benavides had more than the rally to worry about on Stage 13 when his team-mate Matthias Walkner suffered a crash and was airlifted to hospital.
“I saw Matthias on the ground at kilometre 55 and it was so scary because he was with a lot of pain in the back. I stayed with him and we called the doctors, we called the team. Then the helicopter came and when he was a little more calm he told me to ride on. I wish him a fast recovery.” – Kevin Benavides
Sébastien Loeb provided fireworks in the car race with his sixth stage win in a row. The Frenchman continues to sit second overall in the car race with his co-driver Fabian Lurquin. While outright victory at this Dakar maybe beyond the BRX Hunter driver, he is picking up useful World Rally-Raid Championship points with every stage win.
“I wanted to cement my second place. Championship points are important too, so I pushed even though the visibility made the dunes hard to jump.” – Sébastien Loeb
Nasser Al-Attiyah continues to lead the car race, as he has done since the rally arrived in Ha’il at the conclusion of Stage Three. Despite Loeb’s string of stage wins, the gap between himself and Al-Attiyah in first place still stands at 1h 21m 42s. Al-Attiyah and co-driver Mathieu Baumel are looking good to make it back-to-back Dakar wins when they arrive in Dammam tomorrow.
“For the championship it’s important to do well like we did today because it earns us points in the fight against Séb, but what is really important to me is winning the Dakar. The race was great for us, we just have to bring the title home now.” – Nasser Al-Attiyah
Brazilian rookie Lucas Moraes is third overall and also enjoys a large gap over the next nearest competitor in fourth place, nearly an hour. The Toyota Hilux driver and his navigator Timo Gottschalk can secure a fantastic podium finish tomorrow if they can complete the 136km special stage without error. Even though Al-Attiyah and Loeb both finished their Dakar debuts inside the Top 10, neither of them reached the overall podium.
“Today we had some difficult dunes to climb, but we managed to cruise over all of them. It was hard to see because of the sun. Timo did a great job. We’re still holding onto our podium position.” – Lucas Moraes
For the fifth day at this Dakar the T3 stage win was claimed by Mitch Guthrie Jr. and co-driver Kellon Walch in their T3-M by MCE5 machine. Mechanical issues on a couple of stages took this Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team USA presented by BFGoodrich duo out of the fight for the overall podium, but despite this they have still left their mark on the rally.
“It was another long day of dunes today, and that’s exactly what I was hoping for.” – Mitch Guthrie Jr.
It’s Guthrie Jr.’s team-mates AJ Jones/Gustavo Gugelmin and Seth Quintero/Dennis Zenz who hold first and second overall in the T3 race. Jones goes into tomorrow’s final stage with a lead of 54m 30s over Quintero.
“I think out of every stage we’ve done so far, that was the hardest one. The sun was in a really bad spot for the first half of the day.” – AJ Jones
The third place T3 crew of Guillaume De Mevius/François Cazalet are more than half an hour back from Quintero, meaning the overall T3 podium places look likely to stay the same tomorrow.
“I kind of had a feeling of how today would play out. We started way back so we concentrated on finishing inside the Top 5 and maintaining our second place overall.” – Seth Quintero
There was movement further back in the T3 race on Stage 13 as Cristina Gutiérrez overtook Chaleco López in the overall rankings. Gutiérrez is now fourth overall, 34 seconds ahead of López in fifth. Expect these two to go flat-out on Stage 14 as they hunt for as many W2RC points as possible.
Gutiérrez and López’s fellow Red Bull Can-Am Factory Team driver Rokas Baciuška continues to hold top spot in the T4 race. Baciuška and co-driver Oriol Vidal now just have one more stage to clear before they can celebrate a richly deserved victory.
“Today I pushed when I could but I also didn’t want to take any risks. Now we have the last day ahead of us, let’s do it!” – Rokas Baciuška
So what has the 2023 Dakar Rally got in store for its 14th and final stage? A 136km dash along the coastline of the Arabian Gulf between Al-Hofuf and Dammam will see plenty of opportunity for speed for those competitors looking to gain a few crucial seconds on their closest rivals. Then comes the party on the seafront podium where every member of the Dakar convoy who crosses the finish line will get a warm reception from fans, team-mates and fellow competitors.