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Dakar 2023: Week two bites hard, Loeb, Benavides on top

Dakar 2023: Week two bites hard, Loeb and Benavides on top

Dakar 2023: Week two bites hard, Loeb, Benavides on top

The second week of Dakar bit hard as crews returned to action on Tuesday. Nine-time World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb and navigator Fabien Lurquin took their fourth stage win of the race at the top of a Prodrive Hunter 1-2-3.

Loeb continues in his relentless pursuit of comfortable overall leader Nasser Al Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel’s TSA-built Gazoo Racing Toyota Hilux.

It’s not that simple in the bikes, however. Luciano Benavides’ Husqvarna took the day from Toby Price’s KTM, which closed third place Skyler Howes and his Husqvarna’s overall lead down to just three seconds after 3,000 km of racing! South African riders, Malle Moto leader Charan Moore and second in the rookies, Michael Docherty continued to star.

Cars: Loeb wins, Al Attiyah still in control

Week 2 started with Tuesday’s 358 km stage comprising mainly of gravel roads and tracks, with a few dunes lurking towards the end of the day at Haradh. Lower altitudes were said to favour the rear wheel drive cars, which do not enjoy turbo boost compensation, as the 4x4s do. And with 7% of rocks announced, punctures were inevitable as teams pondered the best tyre pressure strategy.

Prodrive was clearly on a mission. Loeb, Chicherit and Zala’s Prodrives led the rear wheel drive trio of Jakub Przygonski’s Mini, Frenchmen Mathieu Serradori’s Century CR6-T, South African Brian Baragwanath’s Century CR6-T, and Mattias Ekstrom’s Audi.

Overall leader Nasser Al-Attiyah was initially the best of the SA-built Toyota Gazoo Racing Hiluxes in a row in eighth, ahead of second overall Lucas Moraes, Le Mans winner Romain Dumas and South Africans Giniel De Villiers and Dennis Murphy.

The week did not start well for Carlos Sainz Sr. and Lucas Cruz when they rolled their Audi RS Q e-Tron quattro into retirement only five kilometres into the stage. Second overall, South Africans Henk Lategan and Brett Cumming’s factory Gazoo Toyota was also in trouble but only lost 40 minutes thanks to Saudi home hero, Yazeed Al Rajhi and Dirk von Zitzewitz’s stopping to assist in their Hilux.

It was tight up front with 12 minutes covering the top 20 cars at mid distance. The field also shuffled significantly through the morning as crews struggled to find the way. Zala led Loeb, Ekstrom and Dumas, but it was Loeb from Zala and Serradori at the next point.

Loeb duly fought Zala off, with Chicherit third for a Prodrive 1-2-3 from Ekstrom’s surviving Audi. Dumas was the first Toyota home in fifth, ahead of Przygonski’s 4×2 Mini, de Villiers, Attiyah, Sebastain Halpern’s Mini, and Moraes in tenth. The Centuries had a tough day. Baragwanath fought home in 11th as Serradori lost 33 minutes. Lategan ultimately dropped 53 minutes.

This all means that Al Attiyah now leads the overall standings by just over an hour ahead of Brazilian rookie, Lucas Moraes, who has really made an impression thus far. Relentless Loeb’s fourth Dakar 2023 stage win sees him move up to third, a further 28 minutes clear of the hapless Lategan, de Villiers and Dumas making it five SA-built Toyotas in the top ten. Martin Prokop’s Ford Raptor is seventh from Baragwanath’s SA built 4×2 Century.

All-Chinese crew Wei Han and Mai Li’s Hanwei SMG sits ninth from Juan Cruz Yacopini’s sixth SA made Toyota in tenth. Still running as we wrote, class leaders Daniel Schröder and SA navigator Ryan Bland’s SA-built Red-Lined VK50 led the T1.1 amateur class with Tom Bell and another SA navigator Gerhard Schutte second and 41st overall.

Just as tough in the bikes

Tough conditions up front and tricky virgin road navigation challenged Sunday’s bike frontrunners, who struggled to open the road. Mason Klein’s KTM, Honda Riders Adrien van Beveren and Pablo Quintanilla, Daniel Sanders’ GasGas, Botswana’s Ross Branch on his Hero and SA rookie Michael Docherty’s Husqvarna all got lost and tumbled down the day’s order.

That left Toby Price, who started 17th on his Factory KTM, and Husqvarna counterpart Luciano Benavides, who set off 21st, trading the stage lead. Husqvarna duo R2 privateer Toni Mulec and overall leader Skyler Howes, fought over third and fourth.

They took early advantage of finding their rivals returning from getting lost to lead the day. It went even worse for eighth overall, the hapless Joan Barreda who crashed out of the Dakar yet again after 16 km. He was airlifted to hospital in Riyadh. Third overall, Klein also fell and lost his roadbook.

Luciano Benavides hung on for the win ahead of Price, Howes, Jose Florimo’s Honda, Kevin Benavides’ KTM and rookie Mulec. Van Beveren ended 12th, Quintanilla 18th, Sanders was 20th, SA hero Docherty 21st, Klein 23rd and Branch 28th. Overall, Howes leads Price by just three seconds after 3,000 km of racing! Kevin Benavides is five minutes back with Quintanilla and Klein more than 15 minutes adrift.

Of the SA riders, Docherty is 20th overall, second of the rookies by 9 minutes, and fifth in amateur R2. HK Husqvarna teammate and compatriot Charan Moore delivered another epic Malle Moto no service win to open up his lead in the Dakar Original class to over 23 minutes.

Fellow South Africans, Stefan Wilken in 68th, and Malle Moto duo, Stuart Gregory and Kirsten Landman, were still racing in 83rd and 90th at the time of writing. Gregory was a virtual 68th overall, Landman 78th and Wilken 80th as we wrote. The quads were also still running as outsiders Laisvydas Kancius and Marcelo Meredius led second overall Moreno Flores and overall leader Alexandre Giroud.

Elsewhere, Mitch Guthrie led the surprising Dania Akeel and overall leader Guilaume de Mevius in the T3 Prototype side by sides. SA crew, rookie leaders and 7th overall, Eben Basson and Abertus Pienaar’s GR Rally sat third on the day. 13th overall, another SA duo Geoff Minnitt and Gerhard Snyman’s HBE Can Am was running in 11th on Tuesday.

Up to a virtual second overall, Eryk Goczal led T4 side by side leader Rokas Baciuska and Jermais Gonzalez at the time of writing. And second overall Janus van Kasteren, Darek Rodewald and Marcel Snijders’ Iveco led Jaroslav Valtr’s Praga as overall leader Ales Loprais’ similar machine sat 7th among the trucks.

It’s a murderous 114 km of sand, sand, and more sand on Wednesday’s tenth Dakar 2023 stage from Haradh to Shaybah on Wednesday. The perfect scenario to turn the race once again on its head. Come back this time tomorrow for the story of the day. (Dakar reports by Motorsport Media courtesy of Toyota Gazoo Racing)