2023 Dakar Rally: Mattias Ekstrom, Toby Price narrowly lead the way in Prologue

The 2023 Dakar Rally began Saturday with a Prologue stage that looped around the Sea Camp along the east coast of Saudi Arabia. With the stage being what Quad rider Pablo Copetti called a “very fast and technical” thirteen kilometres, the margins between each competitor were mere seconds for many but it provided an early glimpse into who will have momentum entering the first main, 600-km stage.

Team Audi Sport‘s Audi RS Q e-tron E2, now eligible for the World Rally-Raid Championship, began its T1 title quest strong as Mattias Ekström edged out 2022 W2RC runner-up Sébastien Loeb for the Prologue win by just one second. Last year’s winner and T1 champion Nasser Al-Attiyah was fourth with a time of eight minutes and twelve seconds, just a second off third-placed Audi driver Stéphane Peterhansel.

“It’s always nice to start in a good way, but of course the day is long and the rally is even longer,” said Ekström. “A good end to 2022, but tomorrow is the real start.”

Red Bull‘s new factory partnership with Can-Am quickly bore fruit as Cristina Gutiérrez and team newcomer Rokas Baciuška respectively topped the T3 and T4 classes, both by two minutes. Gutiérrez beat Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team driver Seth Quintero to end his streak of winning every Dakar stage he finished at eleven (he won all but one of the twelve T4 legs in 2022, with the exception ending in retirement).

Baciuška, the reigning T4 W2RC winner, held off his former South Racing colleagues Cristiano Batista and Gerard Farrés. 18-year-old Eryk Goczał was fourth in his maiden Dakar start ahead of his uncle Michal and father Marek.

“I’m feeling really happy with the car and team, the mentality is really positive,” commented Gutiérrez. “Today is only the start and we have fourteen long stages ahead of us.”

Team Land Cruiser Toyota Auto Body, seeking their tenth straight win in T2, were off to a good start as Akira Miura edged out Ronald Basso by a second. The only other competitor, privateer Ibrahim Almuhna in a Nissan Patrol, finished nearly two minutes behind Miura.

With KAMAZ-master‘s absence, the trucks of T5 instead saw a Prologue podium sweep by IVECO as Martin Macík Jr. led Team de Rooy‘s Mitchel van den Brink and Janus van Kasteren. Class champion Kees Koolen finished eleventh.

Toby Price had a difficult 2022 with lowlights like his Baja 1000 truck bursting into flames and a wrist injury after crashing in Morocco, but he ended the year on a high note by topping the RallyGP bikes. Fellow Australian Daniel Sanders was right behind by a minute, also returning from injury as he broke his left elbow at the 2022 Dakar Rally.

The Husqvarna 450s of HT Rally Raid enjoyed a 1–2 Rally2 finish with Michael Docherty ahead of Charan Moore. Alexandre Giroud‘s Quad title defence began well as he beat Marcelo Medeiros by a second, with over ten seconds on third-place rider Daniel Vila Vaques.

Despite the Prologue’s short length, the Rally has already claimed a few victims. T1 driver Erik van Loon rolled his Toyota Hilux Overdrive after hitting a rut, while Rally2 rider Eduardo Sánchez crashed but did not suffer serious injuries.

Prologue winners

Class Number Driver/Rider Team Time
T1 211 Mattias Ekström Team Audi Sport 8:00
T2 246 Akira Miura Team Land Cruiser Toyota Auto Body 10:16
T3 302 Cristina Gutiérrez Red Bull Can-Am Factory Team 8:49
T4 400 Rokas Baciuška Red Bull Can-Am Factory Team 9:06
T5 501 Martin Macík Jr. MM Technology 9:43
RallyGP 8 Toby Price Red Bull KTM Factory Racing 8:22
Rally2 111 Michael Docherty HT Rally Raid Husqvarna Racing 8:35
Quad 151 Alexandre Giroud Drag’on Rally Team 8:50