The contrast between the prologue on the beach and the first stage of the 2023 Dakar could not be starker. Todayms special followed the outline of the coast from 30 km inland on its way to Yanbu and beyond. The entire field was on high alert in the first part of the 368 km course, featuring the scattered rocky sections where Sam Sunderland crashed out of the race. From there on, the faster stretches between valleys and sandy tracks enabled Carlos Sainz and Daniel Sanders to let their raw speed do the talking. As a reward for their efforts, the drivers, riders and crews are taking the coastal route back to the Sea Camp for more than 200 km.
No-one, not even a master of rally raids who churns out solid performance after solid performance, can truly tame the Dakar. The reigning world champion and Dakar title holder, Sam Sunderland, was once again the victim of the unforgiving nature of the event after he had to throw in the towel 52 km into the special (see A crushing blow).
It was certainly a good day for the riders of the Monster Energy Honda Team! Special stage number one at the Dakar Rally 2023 brought 369 kilometers of action throughout sandy and stony tracks, with start point and arrival at the Sea Camp bivouac – close to Yanbu (South Arabia). American Ricky Brabec was the stage winner on a day where all team riders were in the spotlight.
With this result, Brabec – the 2020 Dakar winner – gets into first position in the overall standings. Pablo Quintanilla (Chile) was seventh, Adrien Van Beveren (France) was ranked ninth and José Ignacio Cornejo – who had the hard mission to open the stage – finished in 10th place in this first stage.
Tomorrow the second stage from this year’s Dakar Rally will leave the Sea Camp in the direction of Al-Ula. This special stage will have 430 kilometers of closed tracks demanding great handling skills, so riders will get mainly dirt tracks (59%), stones (26%) and just a little taste of sand (14% sand tracks and one percent of dunes). Besides this competitive section, there is also another 159 kilometers of liaison. Navigation will be key as participants reach the splendid canyons and beautiful landscapes near the finish. According to the ASO organisation, the stage will be decided on the dunes, with some of the majestic Nabataean temples visible on the landscape.
Kevin Benavides and Toby Price round off the provisional podium ahead of Joan Barreda, who also let a potential victory slip away due to a penalty. While “Bang Bang” scored a near-miss, another Spanish stage hunter hit the mark in the car category.
Carlos Sainz picked up his 42nd career special —Audims sixth since it embarked on the Dakar adventure last year— under the watchful eye of his son Carlos Sainz Jr, who was visiting the race today. Sébastien Loeb, second in the special, found himself sandwiched between Sainz and third-placed Mattias Ekström, underlining the strength of the RS Q e-tron 2s. “El Matador” showed his boy how it is done by rocketing to the top of the overall standings with 10 seconds in hand over Loeb.
In the T3 category, the winner of the 2019, 2021 and 2022 editions, “Chaleco” López, took back control by taking his first stage in two years, while Guillaume de Mevius prevented a Can-Am 1-2 by beating Seth Quintero for second place.
The T4 race came down to a showdown between whiz kids in which Eryk Goczał prevailed over another 18-year-old, Pau Navarro (see Performance of the day). Martin Macík continued his recital in the truck category. The Czech followed up his success in the prologue with a win over his compatriot and rival Aleš Loprais in todayms 368 km special.
PERFORMANCE OF THE DAY
The kids are in charge now! The new generation produced a collective masterpiece in the T4 category. The youngest competitor in the history of the Dakar, the 18-year-old Eryk Goczał, came out on top in his very first Dakar stage. His father and uncle, who added a few stage wins to their names last year, have been gushing about his talent for a long time. It is now clear that it was not just their family pride talking. Just a tad slower, the Spaniard Pau Navarro, who only recently got his driving license, also flew the flag for the class of 2004 by finishing second. He had already flaunted his driving prowess in the Andalucía Rally, where he won the category. You do not need to go much further down the classification to find yet another youngster: the 18-year-old Brazilian Bruno Conti de Oliveira has carved himself a place with the boys in the top 10.
A CRUSHING BLOW
When the 2022 Dakar and World Rally-Raid champion, Sam Sunderland, shows up for a race, you know it is going to be either a big hit or a big flop… and his tenth Dakar turned out to be a flop! The British rider started the stage in 22nd place and posted the fastest time at the first checkpoint, 37 kilometers into the race, only to take a tumble another 15 kilometers down the road. Conscious and mobile, but suffering from back pain, he was flown to Yanbu, where he was diagnosed with a broken shoulder blade. “SunderSam” has failed to finish the Dakar six times since his debut in 2012, but he has secured a podium spot whenever he has managed to complete the race, including two wins (2017 and 2022). 20% of victories, 20% of podium places and 60% of withdrawals is still an impressive track record.
Car Classification after Stage 1
|Car||Time / gap|
Carlos Sainz Sr.
Bikes Classification after Stage 1
|1||2||(USA) Ricky Brabec||Monster Energy Honda Team||04H 14m 10s||+0.000s|
|2||47||(Arg) Kevin Benavides||Red Bull KTM Factory Racing||04H 14m 29s||+00m 19s|
|3||8||(AUS) Toby Price||Red Bull KTM Factory Racing||04H 14m 49s||+00m 39s|
|4||5||(Esp) Joan Barreda Bort||Monster Energy Jb Team||04H 14m 55s||+00m 45s|
|5||18||(AUS) Daniel Sanders||Red Bull Gasgas Factory Racing||04H 14m 55s||+00m 45s|
|6||9||(USA) Mason Klein||Bas World KTM Racing Team||04H 15m 24s||+01m 14s|
|7||7||(Chl) Pablo Quintanilla||Monster Energy Honda Team||04H 16m 17s||+02m 07s|
|8||42||(Fra) Adrien Van Beveren||Monster Energy Honda Team||04H 18m 27s||+04m 17s|
|9||10||(USA) Skyler Howes||Husqvarna Factory Racing||04H 19m 22s||+05m 12s|
|10||52||(Aut) Matthias Walkner||Red Bull KTM Factory Racing||04H 19m 36s||+05m 26s|