South African men and machines starred as Dakar Rally 2023 got under way with a short 13 kilometre prologue along Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea beach at the event’s Sea Park start base on Saturday.
Traditionally seen as a game of Cat & Mouse, many consider Dakar’s Prologue results as merely academic. Faster crews may play for a better road position in Sunday’s opening stage, while others just go for broke in search of an easy stage result.
2022 winners, Qatari Nasser Al-Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel opened the road in their Toyota Gazoo Racing Hilux DKR T1+. They were however pipped by second crew out, 9-time World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb chasing that elusive Dakar win alongside Fabian Lurquin in their factory Prodrive Hunter.
It took a while for the rest of the big guns to filter through, but 14th away, Frenchmen Stéphane Peterhansel and Eric Boulanger slotted their petrol-electric Audi RS Q e-tron between Loeb and Attiyah. Four cars later, Mattias Ekstrom and Erik Bergkvist’s Audi then put a second on Loeb to take the win and claim pole position for Dakar 2023.
By the time the dust had settled, it was Ekstrom who topped the car Prologue from Loeb, Peterhansel, and Al Attiyah. Dakar veteran Guerlain Chicherit ended fourth in his Prodrive Hunter from Carlos Sainz’ third Audi, Saudi home hero Yazeed al Rajhi’s Toyota Hilux and Jakub Przygonski in the quickest of the Minis.
Of the South Africans, the Gazoo Toyotas of young guns Henk Lategan and Brett Cummings, and Dakar hero Giniel de Villiers and Dennis Murphy will start Dakar 2023 10th and 12th , respectively. Quickest two wheel drive car on the day, Brian Baragwanath and Leonard Cremer will provisionally set off 15th in the all-new biturbo V6 Century CR6-T on Sunday. They came home 32 seconds off Ekstrom’s pace.
South Africans also starred in the Motorcycle Prologue. Australian duo Toby Price was quickest overall for KTM from Daniel Sanders’ GasGas, and Botswana Hero rider Ross Branch. Joan Barreda’s Honda, Kevin Benavides’ KTM and Joaquim Rodriguez’ Hero followed.
SA riders however owned the R2 bike class with first, second and fourth in the amateur rankings. Sand specialist Dakar rookie Michael Docherty piloted his HT Husqvarna to a 9 second R2 win over teammate and Malle Moto Original leader Charan Moore, with Bradley Cox fourth on his BAS KTM. Docherty placed ninth overall, Moore 16th and Cox 26th.
SA rider Stevan Wilken came home 41st in R2 on his HT Husqvarna, while Malle Moto duo, Stuart Gregory ended 76th and iron lady Kirsten Landman 79th among the amateur bikers. Dakar’s Malle Moto Original class sees riders riding without any support and servicing their own machines, pitching their tents, and racing Dakar solo throughout.
Opening the road in the morning, Alexandre Giroud took a one second quad victory over Brazilian Marcello Medeiros and Spanish rookie Daniel Vaques. The Side by Sides and Trucks were still racing at the time of writing.
Sunday’s real opening 367 Stage 1 should start to sort the men from the boys. Dakar 2023 will race 5,000 km through the Arabian Desert to 15 January. The real action Starts Sunday. Watch this space!