Dakar 2023 got off to a bruising start as Carlos Sainz and Lucas Cruz’ Audi RS Q e-tron quattro won the 367 km opening car stage and Ricky Brabec's Honda won the bike race.
South African rider Michael Docherty took amateur bike honours on his Husqvarna, but dropped to third on a penalty, while all-SA car entry Brian Baragwanath and Leonard Cremer’s Century CR6-T was the first 2-wheel drive car home in eighth overall. It was a day of attrition and penalties however, with several top competitors cruelly retiring. From the race and many forfeiting positions to mistakes.
Prologue winners Mattias Ekstrom and Emil Bergkvist hit the ground running to lead the way among the cars early on aboard their petrol-electric Audi. They led Nasser Al-Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel‘s Toyota Gazoo Hilux and Guerlain Chicherit and Alex Winocq’s Prodrive Hunter. Ekstrom still led by mid distance, but Sebastien Loeb and Fabian Lurquin’s Factory Hunter was up to second from flying South Africans Brian Baragwanath and Leonard Cremer’s Century CR6-T.
Ekstrom maintained a reduced minute lead over Loeb at three-quarter distance, with Chicherit fourth from Sainz, Al-Attiyah and Baragwanath. Saudi home hero Yazeed Al Rajhi and Michael Orr’s GR Hilux followed ahead Orlando Terranova and Alex Bravo’s Factory Hunter Stéphane Peterhansel and Edouard Boulanger’s Audi. South African Gazoo Hilux crews Henk Lategan and Brett Cummings and Giniel de Villiers and Dennis Murphy followed.
It was all change by the finish line, 100 km anon, however. Sainz made the best of a technical final sector to jump into the lead to take the day by 23 seconds over Loeb. Loeb also got the better of Ekstrom to slot his Hunter between the two hybrid Audis, with Chicherit fourth in his private Hunter.
Al Rajhi also benefited a fine final section to lead the Toyotas, home ahead of a delighted Baragwanath in sixth. Terranova’s Hunter ended seventh from Al Attiyah in the first of the factory Gazoo Toyotas, Pole Jakub Przygonski and Armand Monleon’s X-Raid Mini and Peterhansel provisionally came home tenth.
Penalties for Chicherit, Al Attiyah and Baragwanath however reshuffled the order. That saw Al Rajhi up to fourth from Chicherit, Terranova, Al Attiyah and Baragwanath in 8th
Of South African interest, Lategan followed in eleventh with de Villiers provisionally 16th. Century crews Frenchmen Mathieu Serradori and Loic Minaudier’s Factory CR6-T and lady racer Laia Sanz and Fabrizio Gerini’s Astara CR6 were classified 17th and 24th at the time of writing. SA navigators Gerhard Schutte was guiding Tom Bell in 54th and Ryan Bland 57th alongside Daniel Schroder among the Red-Lined entries.
It was a bittersweet opening day for 2022 bike winners GasGas and for the South African R2 motorcycle riders. Defending champion, Briton Sam Sunderland crashed out of the lead early in the day. Former winner, Aussie Daniel Sanders however made good by winning the day on his Factory GasGas.
Sanders was however handed a 2 minute penalty to drop to fifth behind Californian Ricky Brabec’s Factory Honda, Factory KTM duo Toby Price and Argentine Kevin Benavides. Spaniard Joan Barreda’s Honda also took a minute penalty to drop to fourth from second on the road.
Sanders was fifth in a day of penalties, ahead of one of the heroes of the day, US youngster Mason Klein, who led most of the way on his BAS KTM. Chilean Pablo Quintanilla dropped from third to seventh on a 2 minute penalty, ahead of Adrien van Beveren’s Honda, Skyler Howes’ Husqvarna, and Hero rider Joaquim Rodriguez on tenth.
It was a similar story in the amateur R2 class, where South African youngster Bradley Cox led the way early on before crashing his BAS KTM out off a broken dune and injuring his arm. That left fellow South African Michael Docherty to race on to the R2 win as he finished 17th on his FK Husqvarna, while Cox and Sunderland were casevacced to hospital.
Docherty was however handed a 15 minute penalty to drop to 26th overall and third in R2. Of the Southern African two-wheeler contingent, Botswana’s Kalahari Ferrari Ross Branch ended 14th on his Factory Hero. Charan Moore rode in 15th among the R2 bikes and second in the Malle Moto no service class after a tough day in the saddle.
Stuart Gregory finished a provisional 38th, lady heroine Kirsten Landman 63rd, and Stevan Wilken was 74th, all those results of course provisional. Argentinians Manuel Andujar and Moreno Flores meanwhile rode home first and third in the quads with Frenchman Alexandre Giroud second.
Elsewhere, Chilean Francisco Lopez Contardo and Juan Pablo Latrach Vinagre’s Red Bull Can Am led the T3 side-by-side prototypes from US Junior teammates Austin Jones and Gustavo Gugelmin, and Seth Quintero and Dennis Zenz. South Africans Geoff Minnitt and Gerhard Snyman were still racing in 21st in their HBE Can Am whilst rookie crew Eben Basson and Abertus Pienaar ran 36th in their GR Rally.
Chileans Francisco Lopez Contardo and Juan Pablo Latrach Vinagre in their Red Bull Can Am led the T4 side by sides from Poles Eryk Goczal and Oriol Mena. Marek Goczal and Maciej Marton came home in 3rd ahead of Pau Navarro and Michel Metge in fourth. Mozambican crew Paulo Oliveira and Miguel Alberty Can Am sat 38th.
In the trucks, Czech team Martin Macik, Frantisek Tomasek and David Svanda’s Iveco led the similar machine of Martin van den Brink, Jan van de Pol and Manuel Torrallardona. Martin Soltys, Roman Krejci and David Hoffmann in their Tatra rounded up third.
Day 2 brings a challenging 430 km of racing from the Sea Camp across to Alula. The day starts on fast tracks before hitting the dunes later in the stage. Come back here to catch up with all the events of the day.