Dakar 2023 — Stage 1 | Sunderland Down and Out as Sainz Makes His Boy Proud



#207 SAINZ Carlos (spa), CRUZ Lucas (spa), Team Audi Sport, Audi RS Q e-tron E2, Auto, action during the Stage 1 of the Dakar 2023 around Sea Camp, on January 1st, 2023 near Yanbu, Saudi Arabia

The contrast between the prologue on the beach and the first stage of the 2023 Dakar could not be starker. Today’s 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.

236 VITSE Simon (fra), LEFEBVRE Frederic (fra), MD Rally, Optimus, Auto, action during the Stage 1 of the Dakar 2023 around Sea Camp, on January 1st, 2023 near Yanbu, Saudi Arabia

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). A new pecking order soon emerged in which the young American Mason Klein came tantalisingly close to victory in his first stage as a RallyGP biker. However, a penalty for speeding meant his maiden win will have to wait just a bit longer, and in the end it was another one of Uncle Sam’s (pun intended) boys, Ricky Brabec, who claimed his ninth career special and topped the overall standings. 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 —Audi’s 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 today’s 368 km special.

#511 VAN DEN BRINK Mitchel (nld), VAN DE POL Jarno (nld), TORRALLARDONA Moises (spa), Eurol Team de Rooy, Iveco, Trucks, action during the Stage 1 of the Dakar 2023 around Sea Camp, on January 1st, 2023 near Yanbu, Saudi Arabia – Photo Frederic Le Floc’h / DPPI

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 licence, 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.

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 kilometres into the race, only to take a tumble another 15 kilometres 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.

#01 SUNDERLAND Sam (gbr), Red Bull KTM GasGas Factory Racing, GasGas, Moto, FIM W2RC, action during the Stage 1 of the Dakar 2023 around Sea Camp, on January 1st, 2023 near Yanbu, Saudi Arabia