Dakar 2023 proved a stunning success for South Africa. Nasser Al Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel’s GR Hilux DKR T1+ stormed to their third Dakar victory for Toyota Gazoo Racing on Sunday as SA cars starred, taking the overall and two class wins.
South Africans also starred on two wheels, as Argentine Kevin Benavides took a sensational bike win from KTM teammate Toby Price. SA rider Michael Docherty took the rookie bike win, while compatriot and teammate Charan Moore won the no service Malle Moto Original bike class.
Attiyah and Baumel put in a faultless display to beat Sebastien Loeb’s Prodrive by an hour and 20 minutes with Brazilian rookie sensation Lucas Moraes third. SA crews Giniel de Villiers and Denis Murphy, and Henk Lategan and Brett Cummings fourth and fifth among five SA-built Toyotas in the top ten. Red-Lined cars took a T1.1 class 1-2, and Eben Basson and Abertus Pienaar won amongst the T3 SSV rookies.
SA MEN AND MACHINES STARRED AMONG DAKAR’S CARS
Winners, Al Attiyah and Baumel had another perfect run to their third win in a Toyota Gazoo Racing Hilux, and Nasser’s fifth Dakar win. Their sheer pace and consistency clearly benefits from their racing all year in the R2R world championship, and Toyota Gazoo Racing’s consistent development in the South African series. Their main rivals race less often.
Once he was finally into the groove, Loeb was relentless and set a record six stage wins in pursuit. The 9-time World Rally champion ended second ahead of a trio of ever-dependable South African Hiluxes. Young Brazilian rookie Lucas Moraes was the find of 2023 and a future Dakar star for sure, alongside legendary navigator Timo Gottschalk in their bright orange Hilux.
SA Dakar legend Giniel de Villiers has now incredibly finished every one of the twenty Dakars he has started. Nineteen of them in the top ten. Fourth this year alongside Dennis Murphy, they came home ahead of Toyota Gazoo Racing Hilux DKR T1+ teammates and compatriots Henk Lategan and Brett Cummings. Five Hallspeed Toyotas in the top ten is also an immense feather in Hallspeed’s cap.
RED LETTER DAY FOR RED LINED
Dakar 2023 was also huge for South African rally raid carmaker Red-Lined. Its cars dominated the amateur class, as Schröder and Bland took the T1.1 win from Bell and Schutte. All four Red-Lined cars that started the gruelling race finished in the class top 5. Red-Lined Motorsport clearly succeeded in making its gentleman crews’ Dakar dreams come true.
Century Racing‘s stellar performance fell apart in the final two days. Baragwanath and Cremer’s Factory CR6-T led the T1.2 4×2 class until their penultimate day crash. Ninth placed Frenchmen Mathieu Serradori and Loic Minaudier’s car suffered engine failure on the final day and had to be towed home to 12th by Baragwanath’s machine. An unhappy end to a stunning performance.
Also considered a car crew, South African GR Rally crew Eben Basson and Abertus Pienaar drove a calm and consistent race to take T3 side by side rookie honours. T3 compatriots Geoff Minnitt and Gerhard Snyman’s HBE South Racing Can Am overcame their occasional challenges to come home a fine 12th overall.
THE CAR RACE IN REVIEW
Carlos Sainz and Lucas Cruz’ petrol-electric Audi hit the ground running to win the prologue and day 1. Attiyah took Day 2 as Loeb tumbled to 32nd, stuck in the desert without spare tyres. Chicherit’s Prodrive hit back to win Day 3 as Al Attiyah moved into a lead he would never relinquish. Loeb was back to win Day 4 before Al Attiyah consolidated his lead with double wins on Days 5 and 6.
Saudi hero Yazeed Al Rajhi’s horrid week improved with a Day 6 win before Loeb benefited from Sainz’ penalty to win Day 8. Al Attiyah led a Toyota 1-2-3-5 from Lategan, Moraes, Loeb, and de Villiers at the rest day. Brian Baragwanath and Leonard Cremer’s Century led the T1.2 4×2’s in eighth, Schröder and Bland’s Red-Lined lead T1.1 as Chicherit sat 16th, Al Rajhi 17th and Sainz 37th, with Peterhansel out.
Week 2 was all about Sebastien Loeb. He took a record six stage wins on the trot in his relentless charge, topped a Prodrive 1-2-3 Tuesday, dominated the marathon on Wednesday and Thursday and moved up to second Friday. He won again on chaotic Saturday as the 4×2 leader Baragwanath crashed. Week 2 also claimed Sainz’s Audi, Zala’s Prodrive, Lionel Baud’s Toyota and Simon Vitse’s MD.
A BRILLIANT BIKE SPECTACLE
In an incredible bike race, KTM teammates and former winners, Argentine Kevin Benavides, and Aussie Toby Price were tied in the overall lead at 33 kilometres into Sunday’s final stage. Price however slipped to allow Benavides to open up a minute lead by midway. Price duly clawed back a few seconds, but it was not enough to beat the stage and overall winner, Kevin Benavides.
Skyler Howes rode home third for Husqvarna. Pablo Quintanilla ended a close fourth with him, Adrien van Beveren, Luciano Benavides, and second on Sunday, Daniel Sanders all within four minutes. Jose Flormino’s Honda, Lorenzo Santolino’s Sherco and Franco Caimi’s Hero closed off the bike top ten.
Of the South African bikers, 20th on the day 16th overall, overall rookie winner Michael Docherty’s HT Husqvarna ended third in the amateur R2 class behind Romain Dumontier and Paolo Lucci. Iron Mike led the R2 class early on, but a tough third day had him on the back foot. He fought back hard, three times challenging for overall day wins as he clawed back to that much deserved rookie victory.
DOCHERTY WON BIKE ROOKIES, MOORE MALLE MOTO
Compatriot and teammate, epic no service Malle Moto Original class winner Charan Moore ended 24th on Sunday, 29th overall and 12th in amateur R2. Consistently in the Malle Moto fight, he led most of the way but had to fight back after a rough tenth day dropped him back. Malle Moto riders are not allowed backup of any kind and must service their own machines out of small metal box.
Botswana hero Ross Branch started well and ended fourth on day 2 before enduring a disastrous few days including running out of fuel and being stranded in the desert to lose seven hours on Day 4. Ross however fought back back to win two bike stages through week 2 as he brought it home in 26th overall.
Ever consistent Malle Moto hero Stuart Gregory ended a career best 61st and tenth in Malle Moto on his third Dakar finish. South African lady legend Kirsten Landman had a steady, if occasionally exhausting ride to 68th overall and 12th in Malle Moto. SA Dakar rookie, Stevan Wilken finished 69th off his best stage result in 56th on the final day, following a consistent race bar a painful Day 8 tumble.
AN ABSOLUTELY EPIC BIKE RACE IN REVIEW
The bike race delivered seven different winners in the first seven days. Price took the prologue, Ricky Brabec’s Honda Day 1, and Mason Klein’s KTM Day 2. Sanders, Joan Barreda, van Beveren and Luciano Benavides took Days 3, 4, 5 and 6 as the lead changed consistently. Day 7 was cancelled before Ross Branch bounced back to take Day 8, as Klein led Howes by 40 seconds overall.
Luciano Benavides opened week 2 with a Tuesday win, and Branch took Wednesday as Kevin Benavides led overall, Docherty led the rookies and Moore led Malle Moto. Luciano won again Thursday as Price led Howes by 28 seconds. Ignacio Cornejo’s Honda won Friday and Kevin Benavides Saturday from Docherty to start Sunday’s final stage just 12 seconds behind Price overall
Kevin Benavides duly took the day to win his second Dakar overall and put KTM back after three years off the top step of the podium. Dakar was cruel as ever, claiming top riders, 2022 winner Sam Sunderland and SA lad Bradley Cox on Day 1, Brabec on Day 2 and Barreda, Mattias Walkner and Klein in Week 2.
Words: Motorsport Media