2023 Dakar Rally: Husband/wife duo Juan Morera, Lidia Ruba win Dakar Classic

The Dakar Classic is like a moving museum of racing history as competitors race through the deserts of Saudi Arabia in vehicles built between 1979 (the first year of the Dakar Rally) and 1999. It also stands out from the Rally in that one’s position is based on navigation ability rather than time, meaning the winner is determined by whoever has the fewest points like in golf.

As if it were a guerrilla army (or the Rally’s T2 category), Toyota Land Cruisers dominated the Classic. Six finished in the top ten with all but one being the HDJ80, a model of the Land Cruiser that peaked in the late 1980s and early 1990s, including a 1–2 finish led by Juan Morera. Morera and his wife Lidia Ruba Cuartero recorded 428 points, 101 fewer than Carlos Santaolalla, with two stage wins. It was a strong rebound for Morera, a businessman who raced a Fiat Panda in 2022 but was plagued by mechanical troubles.

“Reality has surpassed my dreams,” said Morera. “It sounds like a cliché, but it’s the plain truth. We knew we could do well, but everything went very well for us and that’s what allows you to win the Dakar.”

Land Cruisers swept the podium as Paolo Bedeschi was third in the BJ71, which existed at around the same time as the HDJ80.

“These days have been intense, tiring, challenging, but also full of emotions,” posted Bedeschi’s co-driver Daniele Bottallo. “We placed third overall in the Classic category and this pays off for all our efforts. The Dakar, the ‘toughest race in the world,’ tests you both physically and mentally. In addition to the medal and the trophy, I bring home many feelings, many good memories of exciting moments. Met many interesting people, saw beautiful landscapes, lived a dream.”

The Land Cruiser would have occupied the top seven if not for the Nissan Terrano II, also known as the Mistral in Japan and the Ford Maverick in Europe, of Riccardo Garosci. The Terrano, especially its predecessor also marketed as the Pathfinder, won the most stages thanks to Urbano Clerici who claimed four of the last five legs though inconsistency relegated him to fiftieth overall. Nissan also scored a fifth win thanks to the Patrol K260 of Luís Pedrals Marot, who competed in the Dakar Rally on a bike in the 2000s.

2022 winner Serge Mogno finished fifth. Two spots behind him were Erik Qvick and co-driver Jean-Marie Lurquin, whose son Fabian Lirquin was the T1 runner-up as navigator for Sébastien Loeb.

Eighth-placed Julien Texier was the highest finisher among those with vehicles before 1986 in a Porsche 911. Texier, who restores Porsches in his native France, raced a replica of the 911 that competed in the East African Safari Rally and the early Paris–Dakar Rally. Such a finish perhaps also comes with additional publicity for the 911 as Porsche is set to roll out the 911 Dakar model.

Stage #1 winner Jérôme Galpin came up just short of making the top ten in eleventh. The NASCAR Whelen Euro Series president and his wife Anne drove the Team FJ Protruck, a Ford truck previously used in the Rally by Thierry Saby. While just shy of the upper eighth, the Galpins set the fastest times in each stage, which allowed them to start the Classic ahead of the field, for the second straight year. Ondřej Klymčiw and his Škoda 130 LR, a 1980s Group B rally car, also won a stage but was out of overall contention early and settled for thirty-seventh.

The Classic was split into groups based on the speed capability and age of their cars, with H1 being open to all vehicles while H2 is for faster vehicles. They are then split by era with H1/2.1 through .3 being for pre-1986, .4 through .6 for 1987 to 1996, and 2.7 through 2.9 for 1996 to 1999. Each specific designation is also based on the type of automobile: those classified .1, .4, and 2.7 are 2×4; .2, .5, and 2.8 are 4×4; and .3, .6, and 2.9 are trucks. For example, the top three were classified in Group H1 as their Land Cruisers are 2×4 vehicles. There is also the H0 group for slower and weaker cars, won by Bertus Alteena (thirty-third overall) in his Volkswagen Taro, a rebadge of the fifth-generation Toyota Hilux (whose upgraded, modern version won the Dakar Rally).

Mogno led H2 while Galpin claimed T3. Among the trucks, Marco Giannecchini claimed the H0T group in an IVECO EuroCargo (fifty-sixth overal) whereas Juan Manuel González Corominas (seventeenth) topped H1T with his Mercedes-Benz 1638 tractor.

Unlike the main Rally, the Classic ended after the thirteenth stage, one day earlier. The third leg was cancelled due to rain, a fate that somewhat befell the Rally as its stage was shortened.

Dakar Classic overall top ten

Finish Number Driver Co-Driver Team Vehicle Points Margin
1 778 Juan Morera Lidia Ruba Cuartero Toyota Classic Toyota Land Cruiser HDJ80 428 Leader
2 704 Carlos Santaolalla Aran Sol I Juanola Toyota Classic Toyota Land Cruiser HDJ80 529 + 101
3 776 Paolo Bedeschi Daniele Bottallo Bedeschi-Bottallo Toyota Land Cruiser BJ71 631 + 203
4 790 Riccardo Garosci Rudy Briani Tecnosport Nissan Terrano II 813 + 385
5 700 Serge Mogno Florent Drulhon Team FSO Toyota Land Cruiser HDJ80 889 + 461
6 728 Dirk van Rompuy Christiaan Michel Goris TH-Trucks Team Toyota Land Cruiser HDJ80 923 + 495
7 793 Erik Qvick Jean-Marie Lurquin TH-Trucks Team Toyota Land Cruiser HDJ80 1,055 + 627
8 707 Julien Texier Jérémy Athimon Team Logistic Rallye Porsche 911 1,163 + 735
9 716 Rene Declercq John Demeester VW Iltis Team Bombardier Iltis 1,414 + 986
10 714 Cédric Zolliker Clemens Lansing Zolliker-Lansing Toyota Land Cruiser HDJ80 1,732 + 1,304

Dakar Classic stage winners

Stage Number Driver Co-Driver Team Vehicle Points
Stage #1 701 Jérôme Galpin Anne Galpin Team FJ Team FJ Protruck 57
Stage #2 778 Juan Morera Lidia Ruba Cuartero Toyota Classic Toyota Land Cruiser HDJ80 21
Stage #3 N/A Cancelled due to rain N/A N/A N/A N/A
Stage #4 748 Luís Pedrals Marot Jan Rosa I Viñas TH-Trucks Team Nissan Patrol K260 28
Stage #5 709 Ondřej Klymčiw Bill Conger Klymčiw Racing Škoda 130 LR 12
Stage #6 704 Carlos Santaolalla Aran Sol I Juanola Toyota Classic Toyota Land Cruiser HDJ80 13
Stage #7 776 Paolo Bedeschi Daniele Bottallo Bedeschi-Bottallo Toyota Land Cruiser BJ71 26
Stage #8 778 Juan Morera Lidia Ruba Cuartero Toyota Classic Toyota Land Cruiser HDJ80 38
Stage #9 750 Urbano Alfonso Gherardo Clerici Nicola Alessio Colombo Tecnosport Nissan Terrano 21
Stage #10 750 Urbano Alfonso Gherardo Clerici Nicola Alessio Colombo Tecnosport Nissan Terrano 12
Stage #11 704 Carlos Santaolalla ARan Sol I Juanola Toyota Classic Toyota Land Cruiser HDJ80 21
Stage #12 750 Urbano Alfonso Gherardo Clerici Nicola Alessio Colombo Tecnosport Nissan Terrano 15
Stage #13 750 Urbano Alfonso Gherardo Clerici Nicola Alessio Colombo Tecnosport Nissan Terrano 16

Overall winners

Class Number Competitor Team Time
T1 200 Nasser Al-Attiyah Toyota Gazoo Racing 45:03:15
T2 250 Ronald Basso* Team Land Cruiser Toyota Auto Body 107:39:42
T3 303 Austin Jones Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team 51:55:53
T4 428 Eryk Goczał EnergyLandia Rally Team 53:10:14
T5 502 Janus van Kasteren Boss Machinery Team de Rooy IVECO 54:03:33
RallyGP 47 Kevin Benavides Red Bull KTM Factory Racing 44:27:20
Rally2 17 Romain Dumontier Team Dumontier Racing 47:03:58
Malle Moto 40 Charan Moore* HT Rally Raid Husqvarna Racing 52:24:42
Quad 151 Alexandre Giroud* Drag’on Rally Team 56:44:30
Classic 778 Juan Morera* Toyota Classic 428 points
* – Not competing in World Rally-Raid Championship