South African drivers, riders, cars, set to impress in Arabian Desert epic
The toughest race in the world, Dakar 2023 starts on Saturday. A strong South African contingent was among the throng stuck in a three hour traffic jam as old friends and rivals greeted each other as the 2023 Dakar convoy Wednesday descended on the Sea Camp that will serve as rally HQ for the build-up, documentation, technical checks, Thursday’s testing and the first two days of racing.
Over 450 vehicles including more than 70 cars, 125 motorcycles, 20 quads, 90 UTVs and 55 trucks, as well as over 100 classic regularity entries will take up the 2023 challenge. Two days longer this year, the 45th Dakar commences with a short, sharp 11 km qualifying test coming Saturday 31 December. That sets the starting positions for the 4,700 km of racing and a total of 8,600 km to be driven over 15 days through to the 15 January finish.
South Africa’s defending Dakar and World Rally Raid champions Toyota Gazoo Racing returns with a trio Hilux DKR T1+ headed by 2022 winners, Qatari Nasser Al-Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel. They’re backed by all-SA crews, 2009 Dakar winner and 2022 SA champion Giniel de Villiers and Dennis Murphy and young guns Henk Lategan and Brett Cummings. Add an army of proudly SA Hiluxes privateers including Saudi home hero Yazeed Al Rajhi, Le Mans winner Romain Dumas and flying Dutchman Erik van Loon.
South African Century Racing has two all-new factory Audi biturbo V6 CR6Ts for SA heroes Brian Baragwanath and Leonard Cremer, and Frenchmen Mathieu Serradori and Loic Minaudier. They are supported by an army of Corvette V8 CR6 privateers including four clean fuelled Astara cars for former MotoGP star Carlos Checa, lady Dakar bike heroine Laia Sanz, Oscar Aldanon and Mario Tome. Add four more Century entries for Dutch twins Tim and Tom Coronel, Michel Kremer, Yannick Panagiotis and Antoine Galland Demay.
Third rally raid race car maker, Red-Lined Motorsport has four entries in Dakar 2023. Brit Thomas Bell and SA navigator Gerhard Schutte return in a VK56, backed by SA-based German Daniel Schröder and SA lad Ryan Bland reading the notes again in the PS Laser VK50. Two Dutch VK56s complete the Red-Lined attack in the hands of Dave Klaassen and Ronald van Loon.
Of the big guns, 9-time World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb is chasing that elusive Dakar win alongside Fabian Lurquin alongside Argentine Orlando Terranova in the factory Prodrive Hunter alongside privateer Guerlain Chicherit and Zala Vaidotas. Audi’s mighty petrol electric hybrid Audi e-Tron quattros can be expected to be a major Dakar factor in 2023 in Stéphane Peterhansel, Carlos Sainz Sr. and Mattias Ekstrom’s hands. Don’t ignore a powerful Mini line-up and Martin Prokop’s Ford Raptor among the car contenders.
Six factory teams and a strong army of South Africans are certain to peak two wheeler interest. GasGas duo, 2022 Dakar winner Sam Sunderland and Daniel Sanders are a good bet, while sister brand KTM has former winners Toby Price, Matthias Walkner and Kevin Benavides in the saddle. Add four factory Hondas for Ricky Brabec, Adrien Van Beveren, Pablo Quintanilla and Jose Florimo alongside super privateer Joan Barreda.
Husqvarna has Skyler Howes and Luciano Benavides backed by SA privateer and sand specialist Michael Docherty. Multiple SA champion, Botswana’s Kalahari Ferrari Ross Branch leads the Hero attack alongside Joaquim Rodriguez, Franco Caimi and Seb Bühler. Rui Gonçalves, Lorenzo Santolino and Harith Noah and Koitha Veettil ride for Sherco.
Other South African bikers include Bradley Cox and Charan Moore back for more following impressive Dakar debuts last year. Lady heroine Kirsten Landman is back to go better on her debut 55th in 2020 in the no-service Malle Moto Original class. South Coast lad Stuart Gregory is after another Malle Moto finish on his third time lucky last year, and former rally driver Stevan Wilken makes his Dakar bike debut this year.
Moving on to the side-by-sides, 2022 winner Francisco Lopez Contardo joins Red Bull T3 juniors, lady star Cristina Guttieres, Gustavo Gugelmin and 2022 T4 winner Austin Jones in the SA-derived South Racing team. They take on Guillaume De Mevius, Helder Rodrigues and Ignacio Casale. South Africans Geoff Minnitt and Gerhard Snyman return alongside Dakar rookie crew SA Rally Raid T1 Class champions, Eben Basson and Abertus Pienaar.
Rokas Bakiuska starts as T4 favourite against Gerard Farres Guell, brothers Michal and Marek Goczal, Rodrigo De Oliveira and local hero Yasir Seaidan. Add lady racer Molly Taylor, bike refugee Xavier De Soultrait and Mozambican crew Paulo Oliveira and Miguel Alberty. Stefan Svitko, Alexandre Giroud, Manuel Andujar, Pablo Copetti. Giovanni Enrico and Kamil Wisniewski and Laisvydas Kancius will meanwhile continue their eternal Dakar Quad battle.
Dakar’s trucks should crown a new winner in the absence of the Russian Kamaz in 2023. Kees Koolen, Martin Macik, David Svanda and Vaidotas Paskevicius fly the Iveco flag. MAN driver Gerrit Zuurmond, Ales Loprais’ Praga, Omir Martinec in a Renault and Teruhito Sugawara’s Hino are among those out to stop them.
Dakar commences with Saturday’s 11 km Prologue before Sunday’s full 367 km gravel loop with the first dune challenge toward the finish. A tough first week follows with 430 km through the boulder fields to Alula on Monday, 447 km to Ha'il on Tuesday and 425 and 373 km loops through the canyons and dunes around there on Wednesday and Thursday.
Friday is 467 km of dune plateaus to Al Duwadimi, Saturday’s 472 km longest stage of rocks and dunes, and Sunday’s new 398 km run lead to Riyadh for Rest Day Monday. Then it’s 358 km to Haradh, and a tough 113 km to Shaybah. 273 km on Thursday and Friday’s 185 km comprise the no service Empty Quarter Marathon, before 154 km to Al-Hofuf, and a nerve wracking 136 km on the beach to the Sunday 15 January’s Dammam finish.
*Follow Dakar courtesy of Toyota Gazoo Racing with daily reports published as soon as possible after each day on www.motorsportmedia.co.za. Race highlights will be broadcast on DSTV Supersport 215 as usual every evening throughout Dakar 2023.
Image: Sam Sunderland PHOTO: GASGAS