It was a red-letter day 10 for Southern African bikers and cars at Dakar 2023, as Botswana’s Ross Branch scored his second stage win in three days, while SA rider Mike Docherty moved into the rookie bike lead with third overall. He joins compatriot Malle Moto rider Charan Moore in leading his class, while SA cars continue to dominate, leading three of the four car classes with four days left to race.
Sand, sand and more sand: Comprising of 95% dunes, Wednesday’s 114 km stage from Haradh which ventured deep into the bowls of the Empty Quarter to Shaybah caused much intrigue. Bikers were up at 4am to take on sub 8° temperatures and a 470km liaison section, it was a shorter stage than most care to remember on the Dakar, but it was expected to be extreme.
It however turned out to be a short, sharp, and relatively easy stage by Dakar standards, with the first bike home in just an hour and 44 minutes after the start.
LOEB WINS DAY 10
Sebastien Loeb and Fabian Lurquin continued in their relentless pursuit of a first Dakar Rally win for the 9-time World Rally Champion. However, Loeb’s mesmerising pace would hardly put a dent on the overall rankings.
Barring a disaster in the last quarter, fourth on the day, Qatari Nasser Al-Attiyah is well on his way to his fifth Dakar victory, and his third for the South African Toyota Gazoo Racing team alongside Mathieu Baumel in their Hilux DKR T1+.
They Qatari veteran followed Loeb, DTM ace Mattias Ekstrom, and second overall, rookie sensation Lukas Moraes in another Hilux. Saudi home hero Yazeed Al Rajhi was fifth on Wednesday ahead of rear wheel drive winner Jakub Przygonski’s Mini, Henk Lategan’s Hilux and Mathieu Serradori’s SA built 4×2 Century CR6-T.
Besides a little movement in the gaps, there was no change in the overall top ten. Attiyah leads Moraes by an hour and 20 minutes, with Loeb a further 16 minutes adrift in third. Toyota trio, SA Gazoo Racing crews Henk Lategan, Giniel De Villiers and former Le Mans winner Romain Dumas follow from Martin Prokop and Viktor Chytk in a Ford Raptor.
Another all-South African crew, eighth placed Brian Baragwanath and Leonard Cremer’s Century CR6-T leads the rear-wheel drive T1.2 class. Daniel Schröder and SA navigator Ryan Bland’s PS Laser Red-Lined VK50 lead the amateur T1.1 class with teammates Tom Bell and SA’s Gerhard Schutte third. Which leaves South African made race cars leading three of Dakar 2023’s four car classes.
SOUTHERN AFRICAN BIKERS DOMINATE
Botswana’s Ross Branch on his Factory Hero and South African Michael Docherty’s R2 amateur class FK Husqvarna were in the mix from the get-go on Wednesday. Docherty initially led Factory Honda duo Adrien van Beveren and Pablo Quintanilla, who were closely trailed by Kevin Benavides’ KTM and Branch. Branch made steady progress to move ahead of van Beveren, Docherty, Benavides and Matthias Walkner’s KTM to win.
Further back, overall top two Skyler Howes’ Husqvarna and Toby Price’s KTM struggled to open the road as Howes led Price home by 34 seconds to consolidate his advantage. But it was Kevin Benavides passed them both to now lead Howes by a minute and a half overall, with Price a further 40 seconds adrift, over 3,000 km into Dakar 2023!
Docherty is back into the top 20 overall in 19th, as he now leads the motorcycle rookie rankings by all of 3 minutes and is up to fourth in R2. SA Malle Mote Hero Charan Moore finished 52nd after a tough day, but he’d crucially done enough to hold onto his 21 minute overall no service class lead.
Fellow South Africans, Stevan Wilken rode in 75th on Wednesday, Stuart Gregory 76th and Iron Lady Kirsten Landman 79th. Gregory is up to 67th overall and 10th in Malle Moto, Landman 76th overall and 12th in Malle Moto, and rookie Wilken 78th overall. Marcelo Madieros took the quad stage from Manuel Andujar and Giovanni Enrico, with overall leader Alexandre Giroud fifth on Wednesday.
Seth Quintero and former quad winner Ignacio Casale fought it out for T3 side-by-side prototype honours, while Guilaume de Mevius kept Austin Jones in check overall. South African crews, rookie leaders Eben Basson and Abertus Pienaar ran 14th to retain their 7th overall. 12th overall Geoff Minnitt and Gerhard Snyman were 20th on the day.
Gerard Farres Guell led Eryk and Marek Goczal in the T4 side by sides as Eryk Goczal slashed overall leader Rokas Baciuska’s advantage down to just 3 minutes 40 seconds with four days left to race. New overall leader Janus van Kasteren’s Iveco also led the trucks on Wednesday after overall leader Ales Loprais withdrew his Praga from the race due to a tragic incident which claimed the life of a spectator.
Thursday’s varied 274 km stage deep into the Empty Quarter is the first half of this year’s marathon stage. Crews are not allowed service assistance and will be in isolation overnight in a Camp in the desert.
Words: Motorsport Media