Nine-time World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb’s ruthless pressure paid off as his fifth straight stage win on Friday moved him up to second overall, an hour and a half behind overall leader Nasser Al-Attiyah’s made in South Africa Toyota Gazoo Racing Hilux. In a busy day among the cars, the bike race remains on tenterhooks as South African men and machines fly the flag high in Saudi Arabia.
CARS: LOEB TO SECOND OVERALL BEHIND NASSER
The bikes set off early on what again proved to be a fast sandy, pan and dune filled day back to service at Shaybah with the cars also away relatively early. And as it has been ever since racing resumed on Tuesday, it was Loeb and Fabian Lurquin who stormed to their fifth stage win on the trot, and their seventh of twelve 2023 day wins in the Factory Prodrive Hunter.
Sebastian Loeb – chasing hard.
Loeb’s relentless pressure saw him move up to second overall behind runaway leaders, Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel, who were third on the day behind Mattias Ekstrom’s surviving Audi. Loeb had languished in 31st after day 2, but his meteoric pace saw him finally pluck second from rookie sensation Lucas Moraes and Timo Gottschalk’s Hilux, when they stopped briefly late on Friday.
There was more of a shake-up behind, as South Africans Henk Lategan and Brett Cummings Toyota Gazoo Racing Hilux lost 25 minutes at a standstill early in the stage. They slipped to fifth overall behind teammates and SA compatriots, ninth on the day Giniel de Villiers and Dennis Murphy. Consistent Polish crew Martin Prokop and Viktor Chytk Ford Raptor also moved up a place to sixth.
T1.2 4×2 leaders, South African Brian Baragwanath and Leonard Cremer’s Factory Century CR6-T lost several minutes early in the day to tumble back to 27th. They fought back to 12th to move up a position to seventh overall as Romain Dumas’ Toyota GR Hilux was delayed.
Second in T1.2, Wi Han and Wei Li’s SMG in eighth overall is under pressure from sixth on Friday, Mathieu Serradori and Loic Minaudier’s second SA-built Factory Century, with Juan Yacopini and Daniel Oliveira’s Hilux tenth. Daniel Schröder and SA navigator Ryan Bland’s SA-built Red-Lined VK50 leads the T1.1 amateur class ahead of sand master Thomas Bell and SA man Gerhard Schutte’s similar car.
Mathieu Serradori – in the hunt
BIKES: TIGHT AT THE TOP!
All eyes were on the overall top three factory riders: American Skyler Howes’ Husqvarna and KTM duo, former winners, Aussie Toby Price, and Argentine Kevin Benavides. Price led Benavides with Howes down in eleventh. Honda rider Ignacio Cornejo however led Benavides and Price, with Howes up to fifth at the final waypoint, but there was a bit of a shake-up in the final sector.
While Cornejo held on for the day win, Daniel Sanders’ GasGas appeared out of nowhere to end second ahead of Price, his KTM teammate Matthias Walkner who also came from outside the top ten, Benavides and Howes. Which saw Price into a mere 28 second overall lead from Howes, with Benavides 2 minutes 40 adrift in third. Honda duo Pablo Quintanilla and Adrien Benavides are 15 minutes behind.
Of the Southern Africans, Botswana’s double ‘23 stage winner Ross Branch’s Hero ended tenth but sits 29th overall after his week 1 issues. SA hero Michael Docherty’s amateur R2 class FK Husqvarna was 16th on the day to move up to 17th overall and retain his strong rookie lead. Teammate Charan Moore was 32nd to close his Malle Moto second place deficit down to two and a half minutes.
Malle Moto Original is considered the ultimate Dakar class. Riders race without any backup and must service their own machines out of an army-sized chest. Two more South Africans, Malle Moto regular Stuart Gregory is 66th overall and tenth in Malle Moto, lady heroine Kirsten Landman was 75th overall and 12th in Malle Moto. South African rookie Stevan Wilken was 75th overall.
Ignacio Casale beat Guilaume de Mevius and overall leader Austin Jones to Friday’s T3 side-by-side prototype win. SA rookie leaders Eben Basson and Abertus Pienaar were seventh on the day and seventh overall. 12th overall, SA lads Geoff Minnitt and Gerhard Snyman were in 20th on Friday. Michal Goczal beat overall leader Rokas Baciuska, Marek and second overall, Eryk Goczal to the T4 side by side win.
Runaway overall quad leader Alexandre Giroud lost 26 minutes as Marcelo Medeiros beat Juraj Varga and Giovanni Enrico to the Day 12 win. And overall leaders Janus van Kasteren, Darek Rodewald and Marcel Snijder’s Iveco took the Friday win from third overall and second man Martin Macik’s similar trucks.
Just 290 kilometres and two days remain of Dakar 2023, with 154 of those through the dunes from Shaybah to Al Hofuf on Saturday.
Words: Motorsport Media