While Stage Seven was cancelled for bikes and quads, there was no break for the competitors on four wheels as cars, trucks and side-by-sides tackled the challenging route.
South African cars are leading three of the 2023 Dakar Rally’s four classes, with Nasser Al-Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel’s Gazoo Racing DKR T1+ leading a made in SA Hallspeed Toyota Hilux overall 1-2-3-4 to dominate the top T1+ 4x4 class.
SA crew Brian Baragwanath and Leonard Cremer’s SA-built Century Factory Racing CR6-T leads the T1.2 4x2s, while Daniel Schröder leads the T1.1 4x4s, alongside South African co-driver, Ryan Bland, in their PS Laser Red-Lined VK50. Saudi home hero Yazeed Al Rajhi and navigator Dirk von Zitzewitz meanwhile added another Hilux stage win on Saturday
Saturday’s 333 km stage, initially planned to be 470 km, was revised, shortened and re-routed from Riyadh to Al Duwadimi for the cars, side-by-sides and trucks. The bike and quad stage was cancelled due extreme weather conditions that included Saudi Arabia getting more rain in in the past week, than its average annual rainfall. Saturday thus became a mini marathon stage as teams met crews for a two hour service en route to the Duwadimi bivouac camp.
Four of the top five positioned cars early on Saturday were merely academic. All of Guerlain Chicherit and Vaidotas Zala’s BRX Prodrives, Audi survivor Carlos Sainz, and Saudi home hero Yazeed Al Rajhi’s Toyota GR Hilux were well down the overall order. Fifth overall, Mattias Ekstrom’s Audi, initially third on Saturday, was the leading top ten runner with sixth man Sebastien Loeb’s Hunter running sixth. There was drama when 11th overall Erik Van Loon rolled his Hilux out of the race
Chicherit led initially, from Al Rajhi, Ekstrom, Sainz and Zala. Overall leader Al Attiyah was back in 16th, pacing himself against second overall teammates Henk Lategan. Third overall, rookie sensation Lukas Moraes and Timo Gottschalk’s Toyota sat 8th. South African crew Giniel De Villiers and Dennis Murphy’s Gazoo Hilux were 12th, and under pressure from Ekstrom for fourth overall. Century duo, Mathieu Serradori and Brian Baragwanath ran seventh and ninth.
Top three, Chicherit, Al Rajhi and Ekstrom swapped the lead through the morning. There was more drama as things went from bad to worse for Audi. Its last remaining petrol-electric top ten runner, Ekstrom ground to a halt around midday. That left Chicherit ahead of Al Rajhi, Sainz, Zala, Lategan, Serradori, Moraes, Loeb, Baragwanath and former Le Mans winner Romain Dumas’ Toyota – who is now up to sixth overall.
It was however Al Rajhi and navigator Dirk van Zitzewitz who emerged victorious to keep Toyota’s cup of success flowing over. Prodrive duo Zala and Chicherit completed the podium. Giniel de Villiers and Dennis Murphy were however the spiritual winners of the day as they made great strides towards the end of the stage to bring their Hilux home fourth ahead of Baragwanath, Lategan and Serradori. Al Attiyah was 14th, losing just five minutes to teammate Lategan.
Al Attiyah thus leads Lategan by an hour and four minutes with Moraes third from de Villiers and Loeb. Dumas follows, 2 minutes clear of two wheel drive leader Baragwanath. There are now seven South African made cars in the Dakar top ten. Further back, Schröder and Bland’s PS Laser Red crossed the finish line as we closed for press, meaning that Attiyah, Baragwanath and Schröder’s South African-built cars continued to lead three of Dakar’s four car classes.
The side by sides and trucks were still in the stage at the time of writing. Martin Macik and Janus van Kasteren’s Ivecos led overall truck leader and Friday winner, Ales Loprais’ Praga. Rokas Baciuska led the T4 side by sides from Cristiano Battista and Friday winner Marek Goczal, which Rodrigo Luppi De Oliveira led from Baciuska overall.
Joao Ferreira’s Yamaha was ahead of Francisco Lopez Contardo’s Can Am and Ignacio Casale’s Can Am in the T3 prototypes. SA crews Eben Basson and Abertus Pienaar GR were running in an impressive fifth and Geoff Minnitt and Gerhard Snyman HBE Can Am ninth. Seth Quinteiro won Friday’s stage, while Guilaume de Mevius led Austin Jones and Quinteiro overall, with Basson ninth and Minnitt 14th
The bikes and quads will return to action on Sunday. Husqvarna rider, American Skyler Howes leads overall from KTM men Toby Price, Kevin Benavides, and young privateer Mason Klein. Honda duo, Friday winner Adrien Van Beveren and Joan Barreda follow. Less than ten minutes separate the lot of them.
South African FK Husqvarna privateers, Michael Docherty is 23rd overall and a close second among the rookies. Malle Moto Original no service class leader Charan Moore is 32nd. Botswana’s Ross Branch is remarkably 40th on his Hero after a truly horrible week in the saddle. SA Malle Moto duo, Stuart Gregory sits 70th and Iron Lady Kirsten Landman 79th and Dakar rookie Stevan Wilken 83rd
Alexandre Giroud holds a 45 minute quad advantage over Moreno Flores, Pablo Copetti and Friday winner Manuel Andujar.
Today’s stage is planned as a 366 km run from Al Duwadimi back to Riyadh