Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Nasser Al-Attiyah clinched his fifth Dakar Rally victory after coming through the final stage of the two-week marathon event in Saudi Arabia.
Alongside navigator Mathieu Baumel, Al-Attiyah hit the front on stage three and was handed a substantial lead as various challengers encountered difficulties.
Sébastien Loeb won the most stages (seven) and established a new Dakar record of six consecutive scratch times en route to second overall, 1h20m49s behind Al-Attiyah.
Completing the podium in third was Dakar debutant Lucas Moraes in an Overdrive Racing-run Toyota Hilux.
GCK Motorsport’s Guerlain Chicherit won the straightforward final stage to Dammam by 1m36s from Audi’s Mattias Ekström, with Al-Attiyah bringing his Hilux home in a safe seventh.
Despite coming in as one of the favorites for overall victory, Audi’s challenge dismantled spectacularly as both Stéphane Peterhansel and Carlos Sainz crashed out.
The fourth edition of the Dakar Rally to take place in Saudi Arabia was the longest and most challenging event in many years. Covering over 5000km, with 14 stages across 15 days, the 45th running of the Dakar was something of a love letter to classic rally raid. More dunes and harder navigation were on the agenda for 2023 and proved a challenge for all crews.
Ekström and Emil Bergkvist won the Prologue on New Year’s Eve, while team-mate Sainz made it two from two for the hybrid RS Q e-ton with victory on the first proper stage around Sea Camp a day later.
Sainz held onto the overall lead as Al-Attiyah picked up the first of his three stage wins on day two, but Loeb fell out of contention after suffering a litany of punctures on the immensely rocky AlUla-Hail test.
Stage two was particularly dismal for Bahrain Raid Xtreme, as Orlando Terranova – who eventually withdrew from the event after aggravating a back injury – picked up four punctures, while the GCK Motorsport Hunter ran out of spares and Teltonika Racing’s Vaidotas Zala was penalized 36 hours for not completing the stage.
Sainz then lost half an hour on stage three – shortened due to bad weather – after the onboard jack failed when changing a tire. With Peterhansel also losing time, Al-Attiyah suddenly had a 22-minute advantage.
The Audis were handed an 8kW power increase after analysis from the ASO and FIA around the Equivalence of Technology between the hybrid T1-U and turbocharged petrol T1+ cars, effective from stage five.
Despite the power increase, Audi’s effort was reduced to just one car as both Sainz and Peterhansel came to grief at the same point on stage six.
The pair of veterans got caught out by a broken dune with a steep fall on the other side; Peterhansel was forced out as navigator Edouard Boulanger suffered a fractured vertebra, and Sainz waited hours for the assistance truck.
Sainz’s rally eventually came to an end for good on stage nine after misjudging a dune early on in the stage.
By this point, Al-Attiyah’s lead was up to over an hour from TGR team-mate Henk Lategan. The South African impressed in the opening week but struggled in the dunes, dropping out of the podium places due to a broken damper and a roll.
After the rest day in Riyadh, Loeb’s fortunes improved, and the nine-time World Rally champion went on a record-breaking spree of six consecutive stage wins which hauled him past Lategan and Moraes.
Lategan finished fifth behind team-mate Giniel de Villiers and ahead of the Ford Raptor RS of Martin Prokop, while Juan Cruz Yacopini was seventh for Overdrive.
Wei Han was an impressive eighth in his Hanwei Motorsport Team entry, with X-raid Mini’s Sebastian Halpern profiting from a last-stage mishap for team-mate Kuba Przygónski to claim ninth.
Chicherit, completed the top 10.
Final Result after 14 stages
1 Nasser Al-Attiyah/Mathieu Baumel (Toyota Gazoo Racing) 45h03m15s
2 Sébastien Loeb/Fabian Lurquin (Bahrain Raid Xtreme) +1h20m49s
3 Lucas Moraes/Timo Gottschalk (Overdrive Racing) +1h38m31s
4 Giniel de Villiers/Dennis Murphy (Toyota Gazoo Racing) +2h29m12s
5 Henk Lategan/Brett Cummings (Toyota Gazoo Racing) +2h36m23s
6 Martin Prokop/Viktor Chytka (Orlen Benzina Team) +3h40m44s
7 Juan Cruz Yacopini/Dani Oliveras Carreras (Overdrive Racing) +4h27m09s
8 Wei Han/Ma Li (Hanwei Motorsport Team) +4h29m21s
9 Sebastian Halpern/Bernardo Grau (X-raid Mini JCW) +4h42m38s
10 Guerlain Chicherit/Alex Winocq (GCK Motorsport) +5h22m10s
T3 Lightweight Prototype: Jones leads American one-two
Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team USA’s Austin Jones did what precious few of his rivals managed to do in the T3 Lightweight Prototype category, namely staying out of trouble.
He only won two stages, but the consistency shown by the American proved key as he kept his nose clean to take his second Dakar victory following his T4 SSV triumph in 2022.
He led a USA one-two, with team-mate Seth Quintero taking second place after successfully bouncing back from a disastrous stage four in which he ran out of fuel and lost power steering, dropping him out of victory contention.
Guillaume de Mevius had been a shoo-in for the overall win in his GRally Team OT3, but the Belgian and navigator François Cazalet lost over an hour on stage nine as mechanical issues forced him to stop. He eventually finished third.
Another contender to miss out was the defending winner of the T3 class, Red Bull Can-Am Factory Team’s Francisco Chaleco López Contardo.
The Chilean won the opening stage and held a lead of nearly nine minutes before getting stuck in a river amid heavy rain on the third stage.
That severely dented Chaleco’s hopes of another victory but he and navigator Juan Pablo Latrach Vinagre recovered well to finish fifth behind team-mate Cristina Gutiérrez Herrero.
Goczał prevails in final-stage T4 SSV shootout
For the second year in a row, the T4 Modified Side-by-Side class went down to the wire, with teenage sensation Eryk Goczał taking victory in his first Dakar Rally.
The Energyland Rally Team driver trailed Red Bull Can-Am Factory Team’s Rokas Baciuška by just over four minutes heading into the final stage, but disaster struck Baciuška in the final section as he dropped 25 minutes.
This handed Goczał an unexpected maiden victory as Baciuška had to settle for second place.
The Goczał family name dominated the event, with seven stage wins from 14 across Michał, his brother Marek and nephew Eryk and each featuring heavily in the battle for overall victory.
Eryk finished a staggering fourth outright on the penultimate stage to Al-Hofuf. That stage time was even more impressive when Goczał revealed he completed over 100km with one hand after injuring himself over a bad bump.
For Baciuška, his rally was no less eventful. He won the road-order setting prologue but was penalized 15 minutes after missing a waypoint. The team launched an official protest, which was rejected by the stewards.
Benavides wins on points as bikes go the distance
Kevin Benavides gave KTM its first official victory on the Dakar since 2019, prevailing in a thrilling three-way scrap on the final stage to win the bike category, which proved to be one of the most open in years.
Toby Price led KTM team-mate Benavides by 12s entering the final stage, but the latter did enough to overhaul two-time victor Price to win by 43s. Husqvarna’s long-time leader Sklyer Howes was third.
Defending winner and W2RC champion Sam Sunderland crashed out on the opening stage of the rally, fracturing his collarbone. The Dubai-based Brit – riding for Gas Gas – lasted just 36km, having led the way after the opening waypoint.
Honda’s 2020 winner Ricky Brabec also crashed out, as did Joan Barreda Bort. Mason Klein’s impressive first Rally GP appearance came to an agonizing end two stages from the end after battling injury following an earlier incident, while KTM’s Matthias Walkner also crashed on the penultimate stage.
Brabec, Klein (BAS KTM), Daniel Sanders (Gas Gas), Howes, Benavides and Price (Honda) all took turns at the head of the field in a rally that featured nine different stage winners.
Giroux always in control in the Quads
Yamaha Racing’s Alexandre Giroud again claimed victory in the Quad Bike category, staving off the challenge of Manuel Andujar (7240 Team) and Marcelo Medeiros Taguatar Racing).
Andujar was the most likely to prevent Giroux taking his second successive win early on but lost over 40 minutes on stage five.
Dragon’s Francisco Moreno Flores was therefore runner-up in the general classification. Winner of four of the last five stages, Medeiros finished ninth.
Team De Rooy are the Bosses in the trucks
Dutch trio Janus van Kasteren, Darek Rodewald and Marcel Snijders (Boss Machinery Team de Rooy Iveco) were the ones to beat the T5 truck class, beating the Czech combination of Martin Macik, Frantisek Tomasek and David Svanda.
Another Czech team, Instaforex Loprais Praga with Ales Loprais, Petr Pokora and Jaroslav Valtr Jr had led for large parts of the rally but withdrew after being involved in an unfortunate incident on stage nine which cost the life of an Italian spectator.