2023 Dakar Rally: Audis falter as Husqvarnas ride in abbreviated Stage 6

Team Audi Sport has been the centre of controversy since Stage #5 of the 2023 Dakar Rally when their cars received an eight-kW boost as part of the FIA’s Equivalence of Technology rule. Toyota driver and current overall leader Nasser Al-Attiyah was among the most vocal critics of the boost, but ironically has only strengthened his own advantage over the field in the two legs since while the Audis have all but lost their chances at victory.

Al-Attiyah notched his third T1 stage win on Friday with three minutes and twenty-nine seconds on Sébastien Loeb. Audi’s Carlos Sainz and Stéphane Peterhansel chased Al-Attiyah for much of the leg, but disaster struck after 261 kilometres when they both crashed in the same location. Peterhansel’s co-driver Édouard Boulanger was airlifted to hospital due to lower back pain which knocked them out of the stage, while Sainz and Lucas Cruz retired after attempts to repair their car failed. The former entry’s exit and Al-Attiyah’s win has boosted the latter to an overall lead of over one hour with 1:06:50 on second-placed Toyota Gazoo Racing ally Henk Lategan; entering Stage #6, Peterhansel had been second in the ranking to Al-Attiyah with only a 22:36 deficit.

Mattias Ekström was the only Audi to not suffer serious problems and finished sixth. With Peterhansel and Sainz’s retirements, he is now the highest running Audi and non-Toyota Hilux in the overall in fifth but is 1:46:55 back.

While certainly a thrill to reinforce his lead, Al-Attiyah also recanted his comments on the Audi/EOT situation by writing on social media, “In the heat of the moment, I reacted harshly to the FIA’s EOT decision. I like to defend my title fairly, and at the first instant, the decision did not seem fair. I now understand the situation better, and would like to apologise for my earlier post.”

20-year-old Mitchel van den Brink scored his maiden Dakar stage win in T5 ahead of fellow Team de Rooy driver Janus van Kasteren by thirty-five seconds. His father Martin van den Brink placed fourth and two spots ahead of Aleš Loprais to leapfrog him for the overall, though with only a thirty-six-second edge. The younger van den Brink’s victory continues a string of youth success at Dakar, joining 18-year-old Eryk Goczał‘s two T4 stage victories.

The Goczał family continued to stand out in T4 as Eryk’s father Marek won the class. His uncle Michal finished second by 2:26, while Eryk himself was seventh. The win is a strong rebound for Marek after his Stage #5 was overshadowed by a head-on collision.

In the Bikes, Husqvarna enjoyed one of the best outings for a manufacturer in recent memory as their riders won all three bike categories (RallyGP, Rally2, and Malle Moto). Luciano Benavides secured his first career stage win in RallyGP ahead of fellow Husqvarna factory rider Skyler Howes with a 3:14:19 to 3:15:15 edge. Howes’ runner-up also enables him to build a gap on Toby Price for the overall, growing their distance from 2:07 to 3:31.

“To take my first stage win at the Dakar means a lot to me. It’s a really special day,” said Benavides. “I knew it would be really tight today, so I pushed a lot, right from the start. Everything went well, I gave my all, and I was able to post the fastest time. It means I’m opening tomorrow’s stage but I’m looking forward to it.”

Husqvarna customer Romain Dumontier won Rally2 for the third consecutive stage. He took over the category’s general lead from Paolo Lucci after winning Stage #5, and ballooned his advantage over Lucci from a smidge below four minutes to over ten. The Rally2-adjacent Malle Moto was won by HT Rally Raid Husqvarna Racing’s Charan Moore for the third time, allowing him to reclaim the class overall from Stage #5 victor Javi Vega.

The Husqvarna boys will have more than enough time to celebrate their victories as Stage #7 has been cancelled for the Bikes and Quads due to poor weather and rider fatigue. Rain had forced Stage #6 to be shortened by approximately 100 kilometres.

Stage #6 winners

Class Number Competitor Team Time
T1 200 Nasser Al-Attiyah Toyota Gazoo Racing 3:13:12
T2 246 Akira Miura Team Land Cruiser Toyota Auto Body 4:50:16
T3 304 Guillaume de Mevius GRallyTeam 3:39:43
T4 401 Marek Goczał EnergyLandia Rally Team 3:45:44
T5 511 Mitchel van den Brink Eurol Rally Sport 3:46:58
RallyGP 77 Luciano Benavides Husqvarna Factory Racing 3:14:19
Rally2 17 Romain Dumontier Team Dumontier Racing 3:25:20
Malle Moto 40 Charan Moore HT Rally Raid Husqvarna Racing 3:46:35
Quad 152 Manuel Andújar 7240 Team 4:08:25
Classic 704 Carlos Santaolalla Toyota Classic 13 points

Leaders after Stage #6

Class Number Competitor Team Time
T1 200 Nasser Al-Attiyah Toyota Gazoo Racing 24:00:48
T2 250 Ronald Basso Team Land Cruiser Toyota Auto Body 46:31:20
T3 304 Guillaume de Mevius GRallyTeam 27:55:22
T4 406 Rodrigo Luppi de Oliveira South Racing Can-Am 29:02:55
T5 506 Martin van den Brink Eurol Rally Sport 28:43:27
RallyGP 10 Skyler Howes Husqvarna Factory Racing 26:31:52
Rally2 17 Romain Dumontier Team Dumontier Racing 28:09:19
Malle Moto 40 Charan Moore HT Rally Raid Husqvarna Racing 31:23:12
Quad 151 Alexandre Giroud Drag’on Rally Team 32:58:54
Classic 778 Juan Morera Toyota Classic 204 points