Dakar 2023 continued to deliver epic action as competitors fought on through the Arabian Desert on Thursday. 9-time World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb continued to pile on the pressure through Day 11 as he took his fourth stage win on the trot. Car leader Nasser Al Attiyah however held strong up front as South African cars dominate. It was a game of cat and mouse in a tight bike race.
Thursday’s 274 km run into the literal middle of nowhere across the Empty Quarter’s dunes and dried up pans served as the first part of Dakar 2023’s two-day no service marathon stage. Which meant that crews took it relatively easy as they headed to their secret, isolated overnight desert bivouac.
It’s Loeb (left) versus Al-Attiyah in the desert duel
CARS: NASSER SOAKS UP LOEB’S PRESSURE
In the hope of pressurising the leading Toyotas into a problem, Loeb and Fabian Lurquin continued to push flat out up front in their Prodrive Factory Hunter. Shadowed by Guerlain Chicherit’s similar Prodrive machine, and Mattias Ekstrom’s surviving Audi RS Q e-Tron quattro, their pace was relentless.
Fourth home, Brazilian rookie sensation Lucas Moraes and Timo Gottschalk did enough to keep ahead of the flying Loeb in second overall. Their dice for second should prove epic as the race winds down towards Sunday’s finish. Loeb took six minutes out of Moraes on the day, to cut his overall deficit to second overall to under ten minutes.
Behind Moraes, overall leaders Al-Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel consolidated their handy hour and 21-minute overall lead with fifth on the day in their Toyota Gazoo Racing Hilux DKR T1+. They came home ahead of two more GR Toyota Hiluxes, SA teammates Henk Lategan and Brett Cummings and Yazeed Al Rajhi, and best of the 4x2s, Mathieu Serradori’s SA-built Century CR6-T.
There’s no change in the top five cars overall as Al Attiyah continues to lead Moraes, Loeb, Lategan and SA legend Giniel De Villiers. Martin Prokop is up to sixth in his Ford Raptor, from former Le Mans winner Romain Dumas in another GR Hilux. SA duo Brian Baragwanath and Leonard Cremer still lead T1.2 4×2’s in their Century CR6-T.
Runaway amateur T1.1 overall leaders, Daniel Schröder and SA notes man Ryan Bland’s PS Laser Red-Lined VK50 held a strong advantage class on the road with Thomas Bell and SA navigator Gerhard Schutte’s similar machine in hot pursuit. This means that South African designed, built and developed machinery continues to lead three of Dakar’s four car classes.
BIKES: CAT & MOUSE UP FRONT
It was another day of cat and mouse in the bikes. Overall leaders, Skyler Howes’ Husqvarna and KTM duo Toby Price and Kevin Benavides are duking it out for the Dakar 2023 win. Price was fourth on the day from Howes in fifth, with Benavides five minutes behind in 11th. That was enough to see Howes back into a 28 second lead from Price with overnight leader Benavides third, two minutes and 44 seconds adrift.
Luciano Benavides (left) and Toby Price
Sixth overall, brother Luciano Benavides took his third stage win of the year on his Husqvarna from seventh man Daniel Sanders’ GasGas, Price, Howes; fourth overall Pablo Quintanilla’s Honda and Sebastian Bühler’s Hero. Fifth overall, Adrien van Beveren languished in 17th after being the second bike to open the road. Wednesday’s winner, Botswana’s Ross Branch also struggled to 19th.
Third to set off, rookie bike leader, SA hero Michael Docherty rode home 16th overall and second in amateur R2 on his FK Husqvarna. Compatriot and teammate Charan Moore had a tough day to 48th as he slipped to second in no service Malle Moto overall. SA trio, Stuart Gregory was 68th to move up to 8th in Malle Moto, Rookie Stevan Wilken was 81st and Iron Lady Kirsten Landman 86th.
Joao Ferreira led the T3 side-by-side prototypes from Mitch Guthrie, after leader Guilaume de Mevius hit trouble. That allowed Red Bull duo Austin Jones to move ahead of Seth Quintero overall. SA duo Geoff Minnitt and Gerhard Snyman’s HBE Can Am sat 14th while rookie leaders Eben Basson and Abertus Pienaar were 22nd in their GR Rally.
Local hero Yasir Seaidan led South Can Am teammate Cristiano Batista and overall leader Rokas Baciuska in the T4 side by sides. Marcelo Medeiros took quad honours from overall top two Alexandre Giroud and Moreno Flores. And Dutch Iveco trio, Martin and Mitchel van den Brink sandwiched overall truck leader Janus van Kasteren on the road.
Friday’s 185 km second half of the marathon stage is another sandy, pan and dune filled day back to service at Shaybah. Before two more days to the finish on Sunday.
Words: Motorsport Media