The three-way battle for the 2023 Dakar Rally overall Bikes crown became more of a toss-up after the penultimate stage on Saturday, thanks to a Herculean effort by Kevin Benavides.
Benavides entered Stage #13 trailing leader Toby Price by 2:40 and second-placed Skyler Howes by 2:12, but the pursuit was quickly put aside when he attended to Red Bull KTM team-mate Matthias Walkner after he fell fifty-five kilometres in. Walkner had crashed after jumping onto a slope, hurting his lower spine; Benavides stopped to provide aid until medical help arrived, and Walkner was subsequently taken to King Fahd Hospital in Riyadh.
“I saw Matthias on the ground at kilometre 55 and it was so scary because he was with a lot of pain in the back,” said Benavides. “I stayed with him and we called the doctors, we called the team. Then the helicopter came and when he was a little more calm he told me to ride on. I wish him a fast recovery.”
The situation resulted in Benavides having 23:10 removed from his final time, reducing it from 2:44:57 to 22:21:47. His brother Luciano had initially won the stage with a time of 2:21:44 but was slapped with a one-minute penalty for speeding, relegating him behind Kevin and Rally2 rider Michael Docherty. With Price finishing fifth (2:28 behind Benavides) and Howes seventh (3:31 back), Benavides chopped his overall deficit to the former to just twelve seconds. Howes trails Price by 1:31.
Price admitted he “actually had a crash today and made a couple of mistakes, I honestly thought I made a bit of a mess of it all. Just knew I had to push hard, get that bonus time and give it large. One more day to go, wish me luck.”
“When I saw that Walkner had crashed, it affected my focus a little bit,” commented Howes. “There were some really big dunes today, I had big jumps off the top of them myself, too. That was a bit of a deciding factor, I really wanted to push and try and get the win, but I want to make sure that I can complete the race as well. I missed one waypoint later on, and that meant circling around to pick it up, so I lost a little bit of time there. I’m still in the fight for the win, and I have to be super happy with how this race as gone up to this point. I can never look back and say I didn’t try my best.”
Docherty’s runner-up is the highest overall finish for a Rally2 bike and adds to an already impressive Dakar Rally début as he also notched a podium in Stage #10. Mason Klein, the last Rally2 rider to score an overall stage podium (third in 2022’s Stage #3), retired prior to Saturday’s leg due to injuries he sustained four stages prior. Despite his strong runs, Docherty is over an hour behind Rally2 class leader Romain Dumontier, who leads Paolo Lucci by a smidge over half an hour.
While most of the overall win headlines rightfully surround RallyGP, T4 has the closest scramble among the Cars as Rokas Baciuška attempts to hold off rookie Eryk Goczał. Despite nursing a left hand injury, Goczał beat Baciuška to the Stage #13 victory by 4:19 for his fourth win, which narrows the margin between them to 3:24. With Goczał’s father Marek in third but 23:11 back, the class win will come down to the reigning World Rally-Raid Champion and the young rising star.
On the opposite extreme, unless Sébastien Loeb‘s Prodrive Hunter suddenly develops the ability to travel at the speed of light and Nasser Al-Attiyah‘s consistency is unexpectedly broken by a crash or another problem, the latter has virtually wrapped up his fifth Dakar Cars overall and second in a row. Al-Attiyah’s lead over Loeb shrank by six minutes as the latter claimed the T1 win, but it was barely a dent in the big picture as Al-Attiyah is still up 1:21:42.
Although the overall is a pipe dream at this point, Loeb can still end his Rally on a strong note. Despite a tumultuous first week, the Frenchman caught fire in the second half as he won his seventh stage, the most since Carlos Sainz did the same in 2011, and sixth in a row, surpassing Ari Vatanen‘s record of five set in 1989. Even with the Dakar win out of reach, the stage wins will be of much benefit for Loeb in the W2RC as each win awards five points.
“The goal is to keep the second place until the end and to score important points for the championship but now it’s a new record with six victories in a row on the Dakar so I’m very happy,” Loeb stated. “That’s seven for us this year. Everything has gone so well for over a week now with very good stages enabling us to get back to second place but now we need to finish.”
The Dakar Classic ended on Stage #13 with H1 class driver Juan Morera winning the overall in his Toyota Land Cruiser HDJ80. Morera racked up 428 total points, 101 fewer than runner-up Carlos Santaolalla.
2022 Classic winner Serge Mogno was fifth overall but won the H2 category. NASCAR Whelen Euro Series president Jérôme Galpin (finished eleventh overall) claimed H3, while other winners were Bertus Altena (Group H0, thirty-third overall), Marco Giannecchini (H0T, fifty-sixth), and 2006 Dakar Rally Quad winner Juan Manuel González Corominas (H1T, seventeenth).
Stage #13 winners
|T1||201||Sébastien Loeb||Bahrain Raid Xtreme||2:26:17|
|T2||246||Akira Miura*||Team Land Cruiser Toyota Auto Body||3:43:19|
|T3||314||Mitch Guthrie||Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team||2:41:08|
|T4||428||Eryk Goczał||EnergyLandia Rally TEam||2:35:13|
|T5||501||Martin Macík Jr.||MM Technology||3:02:43|
|RallyGP||47||Kevin Benavides||Red Bull KTM Factory Racing||2:21:47|
|Rally2||111||Michael Docherty||HT Rally Raid Husqvarna Racing||2:22:14|
|Malle Moto||40||Charan Moore*||HT Rally Raid Husqvarna Racing||2:44:28|
|Quad||159||Marcelo Medeiros*||Taguatur Racing Team||2:55:48|
|Classic||750||Urbano Alfonso Gherardo Clerici*||Technosport||16 points|
Leaders after Stage #13
|T1||200||Nasser Al-Attiyah||Toyota Gazoo Racing||43:48:10|
|T2||250||Ronald Basso*||Team Land Cruiser Toyota Auto Body||106:09:41|
|T3||303||Austin Jones||Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team||50:31:59|
|T4||400||Rokas Baciuška||Red Bull Can-Am Factory Team||51:41:34|
|T5||502||Janus van Kasteren||Boss Machinery Team de Rooy IVECO||52:38:58|
|RallyGP||8||Toby Price||Red Bull KTM Factory Racing||43:11:51|
|Rally2||17||Romain Dumontier||Team Dumontier Racing||45:08:23|
|Malle Moto||40||Charan Moore*||HT Rally Raid Husqvarna Racing||50:56:39|
|Quad||151||Alexandre Giroud*||Drag’on Rally TEam||54:53:18|
|Classic||778||Juan Morera*||Toyota Classic||428 points|