Saturday’s 154-kilometre Dakar stage through the dunes to Al Hofuf would prove a dramatic dream breaker for some.
South African T1.2 leaders Brian Baragwanath and Leonard Cremer, who suffered a hard landing, flipped, and damaged their Factory Century. The car was towed out of the stage. Another Century driver, Yannick, was airlifted to hospital after another crash.
Up front, Sebastien Loeb and his navigator Fabian Lurquin stormed to an unprecedented sixth straight Dakar stage win and his seventh of 2023 in their Factory Prodrive Hunter. His relentless pursuit has however hardly made a dent over second place in todays stage, the wholly unflustered Nasser Al-Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel who have an hour and 21-minute overall lead in their Toyota Gazoo Racing Hilux DKR T1+.
Mattias Ekstrom’s surviving Audi was third ahead of South Africans Henk Lategan and Brett Cummings’ Gazoo Hilux, home hero Yazeed Al Rajhi’s GR Hilux, and best of the 4x2s Jakub Przygonski’s Mini. Rookie sensation Luca Moraes was seventh in his Hilux from Guerlain Chicherit’s Hunter, Juan Yacopini’s Hilux, and SA duo Giniel de Villiers and Dennis Murphy’s Gazoo Hilux.
Outside the top ten, Mathieu Serradori and Loic Minaudier’s second Century recovered to 12th after a difficult start to close on new class leader Wei Han’s 4×2 advantage down to 2 minutes 30. Overall, Attiyah leads Loeb, Moraes, de Villiers and Lategan. Martin Prokop’s Ford Raptor sat sixth after a tough day, from Yacopini, up four places overall but closely followed by Han and Serradori.
Thomas Bell and SA navigator Gerhard Schutte led Daniel Schröder and his SA notes man Ryan Bland home to another South African Red-Lined Racing T1.1 amateur class 1-2. Schröder and Bland lead Bell and Schutte in a comfortable Red-Lined 1-2 overall, with all four of the maker’s cars still running into Sunday’s short final stage.
More drama in epic bike race
As it was in the cars, the bikes also delivered great late Dakar drama. The day started with news that tenth overall US KTM youngster Mason Klein had thrown in the towel after struggling since a Day 9 crash. Then ninth overall KTM factory rider Matthias Walkner crashed heavily, as third overall, teammate Kevin Benavides stopped to help until Walkner was airlifted out.
Benavides would ultimately gain his lost time back, but that kept him invisible through the day. His pace was however clearly quicker than the men up front. Heroic South African rookie Michael Docherty’s FK Husqvarna led the way from brother Luciano Benavides’ Factory Husqvarna and Adrien van Beveren’s Honda, as overall top two, Price and Howes fought in sixth and seventh.
Docherty ultimately benefited a Luciano Benavides penalty to top the times, with overnight leader Toby Price’s KTM third from Husqvarna privateer Romain Dumontier, second overall Skyler Howes’ Husqvarna, Pablo Quintanilla’s Honda, privateer Tosha Schareina’s KTM and Botswana’s double ‘23 stage winner Ross Branch’s Hero in ninth. Kevin Benavides was provisionally placed 31st overall.
All of which left Price leading Howes overall. But the world awaited news of Kevin Benavides’ corrected time, which ultimately saw him regain over 23 minutes. So, Kevin Benavides not only took the day win, but he also moved up to second overall, just twelve seconds from KTM teammate Price. Howes sat just a minute and 31 seconds off the pace in third.
South Africans star all the way
Another South African, Charan Moore made more waves in the desert sand a little further back. He stormed home 29th on Sunday to move back into a 17 minute overall Malle Moto Original class lead on his R2 FK Husqvarna. Considered the ultimate Dakar iron man adventure, Malle Moto riders are not allowed backup of any kind, and must service their own machines out of small metal box.
SA lady and gentlemen riders, Stuart Gregory goes into the final day in 63rd overall and tenth in Malle Moto, lady star Kirsten Landman 71st overall and 12th in Malle Moto and rookie Stevan Wilken 73rd overall. Marcelo Medeiros took another quad stage win from Giovanni Enrico and Moreno Flores, but Alexandre Giroud takes a 44-minute lead over Flores going into the final stage on Sunday.
Mitch Guthrie again won the T3 SSV day. SA rookie leaders Eben Basson and Abertus Pienaar were ninth and Geoff Minnitt and Gerhard Snyman 24th. Austin Jones has a strong overall lead with Basson seventh and Minnitt 12th. Second overall, Eryk Goczal beat leader Rokas Baciuska on Sunday, to close Baciuska’s advantage down to 3 minutes 24 in T4 SSV. Janus van Kasteren led the trucks overall.
A 134 km short, sandy and gravel track road through a pan or two is all that now separates the 2023 field form the Dakar finish in Damman. Judging by Saturday’s late dramas however, it will not be over until that fat lady sings. Come back this time tomorrow to hear what she has to say!(Dakar reports by Motorsport Media courtesy of Toyota Gazoo Racing)