2023 Dakar Rally: Stage 8 shakes up Bike battle

After not racing Stage #7 for weather reasons, the Bikes returned to the Dakar Rally with a bang as the overall and stage battles stole the show from the four-wheelers in Stage #8.

Perhaps the biggest story of the run from Dawadmi back to Riyadh came in RallyGP as Ross Branch scored the stage victory ahead of former overall leader Daniel Sanders by three minutes and fifteen seconds. The win is Branch’s second at Dakar and first since Stage #2 in 2020, as well as the second for Hero MotoSports after Joaquim Rodrigues claimed the third leg in 2022. Hero is the first Indian manufacturer to claim a Dakar stage victory.

“It has been a tough week, and I’m really happy to go into the rest day with a stage win,” said Branch. “This morning I felt really good, the bike was excellent, and I decided to push as hard as I could. It was a good stage, the navigation was fine, and I horoughly enjoyed it as I went all out and raced the whole thing.”

Overall leader Skyler Howes was a distant twentieth; he and many of the frontrunners like Toby Price and Stage #6 winner Luciano Benavides finished outside the top ten as the rest of the field, who started their race after them, quickly caught up to them. Mason Klein initially leapfrogged Howes for the general lead after finishing runner-up, but received a two-minute speeding penalty that relegated him by one position in the stage. Nevertheless, Klein and Kevin Benavides (finished tenth) are both only thirteen seconds behind Howes in the overall, compared to the previous stage when Price was second and trailed Howes by 3:31.

Hero was not the only manufacturer celebrating after the stage as the Prodrive Hunters placed all three remaining entries in the top ten, with Sébastien Loeb taking his second win of the Rally ahead of leader Nasser Al-Attiyah. Guerlain Chicherit was sixth while Stage #7 runner-up Vaidotas Žala squeezed into tenth after overcoming an early tyre puncture. The Hunters have been plagued by bad luck throughout the race, though Loeb’s victory upgrades him to fourth overall.

“Three out of eight for the Prodrive Hunter plus BRX is up to fourth place overall with Seb so the rest day is very well deserved tomorrow,” commented Loeb’s Bahrain Raid Xtreme team principal Gus Beteli. “Sure, there’ll be a lot of work to do but the vibe is good here at the BRX camp after all three cars made the top ten again today.”

João Ferreira, the defending FIA European Cup for Cross-Country Bajas champion, beat back an army of Red Bulls to score his first T3 stage win. He had seventeen seconds on Francisco López Contardo, while Mitch Guthrie completed the T3 podium ahead of Austin Jones.

South Racing swept the T4 podium with Jeremías Gonzalez Ferioli, Yasir Seaidan, and Gerard Farrés all finishing within 3:18 of each other. Pau Navarro prevented South Racing from sweeping the top five by finishing fourth, though his FN Speed Team is an ally of South.

The overall leaders in every class remained the same between the seventh and eighth stages.

Stage #9 will take place on Tuesday as Monday will be a rest day in Riyadh.

Stage #8 winners

Class Number Competitor Team Time
T1 201 Sébastien Loeb Bahrain Raid Xtreme 3:34:24
T2 246 Akira Miura Team Land Cruiser Toyota Auto Body 5:28:06
T3 337 João Ferreira X-raid Team 4:11:36
T4 412 Jeremías Gonzalez Ferioli South Racing Can-Am 4:16:18
T5 501 Martin Macík Jr. MM Technology 4:04:28
RallyGP 16 Ross Branch Hero MotoSports 3:46:18
Rally2 111 Michael Docherty HT Rally Raid Husqvarna Racing 3:54:18
Malle Moto 40 Charan Moore HT Rally Raid Husqvarna Racing 4:29:23
Quad 152 Manuel Andújar 7240 Team 4:56:05
Classic 778 Juan Morera Toyota Classic 38 points

Leaders after Stage #8

Class Number Competitor Team Time
T1 200 Nasser Al-Attiyah Toyota Gazoo Racing 31:02:58
T2 250 Ronald Basso Team Land Cruiser Toyota Auto Body 56:37:39
T3 304 Guillaume de Mevius GRallyTeam 36:03:09
T4 400 Rokas Baciuška Red Bull Can-Am Factory Team 37:33:31
T5 508 Aleš Loprais InstaForex Loprais Praga 36:30:58
RallyGP 10 Skyler Howes Husqvarna Factory Racing 30:34:16
Rally2 17 Romain Dumontier Team Dumontier Racing 32:09:30
Malle Moto 40 Charan Moore HT Rally Raid Husqvarna Racing 35:52:35
Quad 151 Alexandre Giroud Drag’on Rally Team 37:57:04
Classic 778 Juan Morera Toyota Classic 271 points