Like last year, the Dakar opens the world rally-raid championship season and serves as the first verdict, this time after 14 stages. There are still 20 stages left on the calendar for the second season. But this opening event announces an exciting season.
16Cars: Al Attiyah wins, but Loeb wins
Sébastien Loeb is not one of those who need to be repeated twice. Last year, as his chances of winning the Dakar were dwindling, the Frenchman went hunting for special stages to take between 1 and 5 points by placing among the top 5 drivers at the finish each day. The goal was to make up the 10 points that separate the winner of the Dakar, who receives 50 points, from his runner-up. As a result, Loeb finished 2nd in the Dakar and in the championship, but only 1 point behind.
The situation was quickly repeated at the beginning of this year. This time, Bahrain Raid Xtreme driver Al Attiyah did not spare any effort and won 6 stages in a row until the day before the finish. The Toyota Gazoo Racing driver won the Dakar again, but Loeb left Saudi Arabia in 1st place in the championship with a 2 point lead over Nasser: 87 to 85.
T3 Light Prototypes: Austin Jones has all the “power”.
“Chaleco” Lopez won the 2021 Dakar in T4 just before doing a double in T3 on the 2022 Dakar. The reigning world number one, untouchable during the W2RC season despite attacks from his Red Bull teammates Cristina Gutierrez and Seth Quintero, is experiencing a parallel situation at the start of the season. He has now been followed by teammate Austin Jones, who won the Dakar in Q3 after his victory in Q4 a year earlier. In the provisional standings, the five crews of Red Bull Off-Road Junior USA by BFG and Red Bull Can-Am Factory occupy the top five spots.
Jones has 83 points to Quintero’s 77. Just like last year, the young American has the best repertoire of leading positions in the daily stages (37 points for the stages plus 40 points for his 2nd place), which is enough to keep him at bay from his compatriot. “Chaleco” is 3rd with 54 points, Cristina 4th with 52 points and Mitch Guthrie 5th with 51 points.
To note the second participation of Dania Akeel and Mashael AlObaidan in this event. They are the only two Saudi and Arabian runners of this Dakar 2023. If their ranking remains anecdotal (94th in car for Akeel, 24th in T3 for AlObaidan) their participation is less so in a country that allowed women to drive nearly 5 years ago.
SSV/T4: The Goczał trio is on the move
Rokas Baciuška, the young defending champion, had to wipe his glasses twice to believe it. Not only because the Goczałs from Energylandia were not two but three at the beginning of the season, but also because it was 18-year-old Eryk, even younger than him, who won the Dakar in his first appearance in W2RC. Everything changed on the last stage, but the result is what it is: the young Pole (86 points) is ahead of the Lithuanian driver of Red Bull Can-Am Factory (79 points). His father Marek (67 points) and his uncle Michał (47 points) follow him closely. Interestingly, 9 of the top 10 are driving South Racing-prepared Can-Ams.
T5 trucks: the Netherlands, the new home of trucks
Martin Macík continues to face rivals from the land of tulips, cheese… and also trucks! Last year it was Kees Koolen who stood up to him. In the first round of this year’s race, he met a new Dutch rival in the person of Janus van Kasteren. The Boss Machinery driver won the Dakar and wrote a new page in the De Rooy clan by ending the Kamaz domination. The Dutchman has 113 points. “MM”, 2nd on the Dakar in another Iveco, follows him closely with 102 points. In 3rd place, we find another Czech W2RC regular, Tomáš Vrátný, with 66 points.
Motorcycles and quads: Kevin’s calculation works well for him
Kevin Benavides, without points in the championship after breaking his engine in the previous Dakar, is taking his revenge this season. He leaves the Dakar with 38 points, while world champion Sam Sunderland and his runner-up Ricky Brabec have suffered the same fate as Kevin by eliminating themselves from the inaugural competition after a crash. Toby Price, who scored few points on the 2022 Dakar and crashed on the Rally of Morocco, did not fare well last season. By taking 2nd place on the Dakar, he now has 30 points and all the options for the title.
KTM won its 19th Dakar and is gradually climbing up the manufacturers’ rankings with this pairing, which earned it 68 points. Skyler Howes, 3rd on the Dakar with 24 points, allows Husqvarna to take the 2nd place in the team ranking, helped by the 6th position in the team ranking.