The second day of Dakar 2023 proved a thriller with all the ingredients of an epic adventure. Both the car and bike leads changed in the final sector as defending champions Nasser Al-Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel’s Gazoo Toyota Hilux overcame Dutchmen Erik Van Loon and Sébastien Delaunay’s similar privateer car for the closest of car victories. It was a good day all-round for SA teams Gazoo Toyota and Century Racing.
South African rookie R2 amateur biker Michael Docherty meanwhile took a sensational early motorcycle lead. Docherty ultimately took his second R2 win on the trot as US KTM lad Mason Klein benefited late leader Daniel Sanders’ GasGas slowing near the end in search of a better Tuesday starting position. Botswana rider Ross branch meanwhile ended fourth on the day on his Hero.
CARS: A GAME OF CAT & MOUSE
A glut of Sunday penalties affected the Monday car start order. WRC legend Carlos Sainz Sr. and Lucas Cruz led them away in their Audi RS Q e-Tron quattro from 9-time World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb and Fabian Lurquin’s Factory BRX Hunter. Saudi home hero Yazeed Al Rajhi and Dirk van Zitzewitz’ left the gates third in their Toyota GR Hilux DKR T1+.
Defending champions Attiyah and Baumel set off sixth ahead of SA crew Brian Baragwanath and Leonard Cremer in their Century CR6-T, with Toyota Gazoo compatriots Henk Lategan and Brett Cummings 10th, and Giniel De Villiers and Dennis Murphy 18th based on their final results yesterday.
De Villiers hit the ground running, assisted by the leaders struggling to open the narrow, rough, and rocky 430 km stage with unusually little sand and dunes. Giniel initially fought it out with French crew Lionel Baud and Remy Boulanger, as well as Erik Van Loon and Delaunay who recovered from their prologue rollover. Both Baud and Van Loo benefited the cleaned out road as they ran well down from their respective 74th and 41st starting positions in their similar privateer Toyota GR Hilux DKR T1+s.
The Toyotas of Al-Attiyah and Saudi home hero Yazeed Al Rajhi and Michael Orr, and Polish crew Martin Prokop and Viktor Chytk in a Ford Raptor, also benefiting starting 20th, joined the top three in their wide-spread battle. Behind them Simon Vitse and Fred Lefebvre’s MD buggy held the two wheel drive advantage over Frenchmen Mathieu Serradori and Loic Minaudier Factory Century, as teammate Baragwanath lost 20 minutes on the road when he stopped to cool a hot engine.
Sunday’s frontrunners struggled early on, with Attiyah initially running in seventh, Sainz ninth, Audi teammate Mattias Ekstrom 13th, Lategan 18th, Seb Loeb’s BRX Hunter 23rd and Stéphane Peterhansel’s Audi in 24th. Guerlain Chicherit was even worse off, stuck in the desert with no more spare wheels for his BRX Hunter, a fate which later also befell Loeb. The BRX troubles seemed to be caused by the team running tyre pressures too high in an effort to avoid punctures. Attiyah and Sainz however picked up the pace as the day progressed.
The second highest altitude of all the stages also allegedly saw the rear wheel drive turbo cars struggling against the 4x4 turbo cars as a result of slightly different turbo regulations between the two classes. That did not prevent a splendid dice between Serradori and Vitse, which saw Serradori stealing the lead from Vitse at the very end to take the 2WD win in his SA-built Century.
The fat lady had however not yet sung, with all eyes on Van Loon chasing his first Dakar day win leading through the final control and Baud still in the thick of it. Had van Loon done enough to stave off the charging Al Attiyah? Alas no, as the Dutch crew missed out by a handful of seconds in the end.
Nasser’s factory car pipped van Loon’s similar privateer Toyota to a classic Hilux 1-2. Sunday winner Carlos Sainz ended third on Monday to maintain the overall lead. With Serradori fourth from Baud, de Villiers, Prokop. Baragwanath clawed back to a provisional tenth, Lategan was provisionally 16th. Expect penalties to change the day’s order.
Overall, Sainz leads Al Attiyah by two minutes, with Serradori third, 24 minutes off the pace and Vitse and de Villiers close behind. Baragwanath lies seventh from Prokop. Peterhansel and Lategan. That’s six South African cars and three teams in the top ten, albeit subject to penalties to be applied.
DOCHERTY, BRANCH STAR ON TWO WHEELS
Once all of Sunday’s penalties were applied, it was Californian Ricky Brabec’s Honda that led the bikes away ahead of KTM duo Kevin Benavides and Toby Price. Botswana’s Ross Branch was looking for a better day on his Hero from 12th as South African FK Husqvarna duo Michael Docherty led the R2 class away, and Charan Moore was the first Malle Moto Original machine to set off. He picked up the no-service bike class win yesterday after rival Joan Garcia also incurred a penalty.
Damp conditions however caused a few surprises as rookie leader Docherty emerged a shock leader early on from Spaniard Sachedina and Hero duo Sebastien Bühler and Joaquim Rodrigues, and Daniel Sanders’ GasGas. Clear tracks seemed to help the bikes further back in maintaining a higher pace.
Sanders moved up to second and slowly closed on Docherty, passing the South African at mid distance. KTM man Toby Price loomed large in third ahead of Botswana rider Ross Branch on his Hero as yesterday’s winner Ricky Brabec struggled with his Honda. BAS KTM privateer Mason Klein and Husqvarna factory rider Skyler Howes were enjoying good run later in the day, Docherty had an issue in the penultimate sector, slipping to tenth, but maintaining a strong amateur R2 lead.
It was Klein who emerged ahead at the finish to take the day in dramatic style, despite a two minute penalty. Sanders admitted to deliberately slowing in the final sector in an effort to avoid starting first on Tuesday. He slowed by over five minutes and finished ninth, which left Bühler second, Howes third and Branch in fourth, whilst Price rounded out the top five. Docherty ultimately rode home thirteenth to take his second R2 stage win on the trot. Klein moved into the overall lead with his win, leading Price, Barreda, Benavides, and Sanders, all within three minutes. Branch sits 12th and rookie winner Docherty is provisionally 19th overall.
Of the other South African bikers, R2 Malle Moto Original class rider Charan Moore had a solid day to 37th and second in the no service category on his FK Husqvarna. South African Malle Moto rider, Stuart Gregory was still running in 90th, iron lady Kirsten Landman sat 105th, and Stevan Wilken was sitting 123rd overall as we wrote.
In the quads, Frenchman Alexandre Giroud took a second win on the trot after a close dice with Argentine Manuel Andujar, who lost seven minutes in the final sector. That saw him to slip to fourth behind American veteran Pablo Copetti and Argentine Moreno Flores.
For the rest, the side by sides and trucks were still racing as we wrote. Poles Eryk Goczal and Oriol Menia won Sunday’s T4 production side-by-side race in their Can Am, from Pau Navarro and Michael Metge, and Michal Goczal and Szymon Gospodarczyk. Goczal led again at mid race on Monday, from Argentine Jermais Gonzalez and Pedro Rinaldi, and Brazilian Rodrigo Luppi De Oliveira and Maykel Justo’s Can Ams.
Chilean Francisco Lopez and JP Latrach’s Can Am took Sunday’s T3 side by side prototypes from Guilaume de Mevius and Francois Casalet’s GR and US lad Seth Quintero and Dennis Zenz SA rookie crew Eben Basson and Abertus Pienaar were 25th in their GR Rally and Geoff Minnitt and Gerhard Snyman’s Can Am 39th. Lopez led Monday’s stage at mid distance from US Can Am lads, Austin Jones and Gustavo Gugelmin and Mitch Guthrie and Kellon Walch, with Basson 17th and Minnitt 27th.
Czech team Martin Macik, Frantisek Tomasek and David Svanda’s Iveco took Sunday’s truck race from countrymen Ales Loprais, Petr Pokora and Jaroslav Valr’s Praga and Dutch Iveco men Mitchel van den Brink, Jarno van de Pol and Moises Torrallardona. It was all change, a third of the way on Monday as Dutch trio Janus van Kasteren, Darek Rodewald and Marcel Snijders’s Iveco led the Loprais Praga, and Martin van den Brink, Rijk Mouw Erik Kofman’s Iveco at a third distance.
Today sees an even longer 446 kilometre run through several canyons from Al’Ula to Ha’Il. Be sure to come back here for all the news as it breaks.