It was a special shortened to 357 kilometres that the riders, drivers and crews on the Dakar tackled, setting off to the southeast of Ha’il. The ultra-sandy programme, made slightly easier by the rain that had modified the solidity of the ground, allowed the riders, drivers and crews to get through the stage without too many mishaps, but the dunes held some nasty surprises in store when they were tackled without due caution. Even with the experience of Stéphane Peterhansel and Carlos Sainz, it is possible to come unstuck! The former’s co-pilot ended up in hospital, the latter’s car ended up in the workshop, with both losing their hopes of winning another Dakar this year. However, the day’s terrain was expertly tamed by Luciano Benavides on his bike and Nasser Al Attiyah, who now has a sandy boulevard before him.
Despite the clouds still hovering over the scope of the Dakar, the hierarchy of the title contenders is much clearer after stage six. Although the title is still within reach for a handful of contenders, with the top seven within a thirteen-minute time bracket, this observation is still valid in the bike category, for the leading group at least. Luciano Benavides is not among them, but nevertheless he took advantage of the day to win for the first time in his career on the Dakar, while his team-mate Skyler Howes posted the second-best time of the day to strengthen his place at the rally’s summit (see performance of the day). The competition is by no means out of it yet, as the two former winners Toby Price and Kevin Benavides are still strong rivals for the moustachioed American. As for Nasser Al Attiyah, he risks lacking rivals to provide thrills in the forthcoming days. Although a traditionally breath-taking match seemed to be developing with Stéphane Peterhansel, the race configuration underwent immense upheaval after 212 km. “Mister Dakar” failed to correctly negotiate a jump over a dune, resulting in injury for his co-pilot Edouard Boulanger, which fortunately was not serious, except for the disappointment of being forced to exit the race. The same dune caught out Carlos Sainz, who spent the majority of the day awaiting his rapid assistance team (see a crushing blow). In the same sector, Yazeed Al Rajhi had also got stuck after a similar piece of automobile acrobatics with the same unfortunate result. However, the misfortune of the Saudi driver was not enough to dampen the atmosphere in the Toyota clan: in the meantime, Nasser performed a recital among the dunes to win his 47th special and reaches Riyadh with a lead of more than one hour over his team-mate Henk Lategan. Just behind them, two other Hiluxes driven by debutant Brazilian Lucas Moraes and the hyper-experienced Giniel de Villiers completed the parade! All other things being equal, Alexandre Giroud also has a boulevard ahead of him on arrival in the Saudi capital, with a lead of 43 minutes over Francisco Moreno Flores and could afford to be untroubled by Manuel Andújar’s stage victory. Although he cannot boast the same serenity, Guillaume De Mevius, who took the lead in the T3 category yesterday, strengthened his lead over Austin Jones with his first stage victory of the year. In the T4 race, Rodrigo Luppi de Oliveira retained his place at the rally’s summit but will have to keep a watchful eye on the return to winning ways of the Gozcał family: elder brother Marek posted the day’s best time ahead of Michał. The truck race witnessed the beginnings of a changing of the guard in the Dutch clan, with the first stage victory on the Dakar by Mitch Van den Brink at the age of 20 years (see stat of the day).
PERFORMANCE OF THE DAY
It has been 2 years since Husqvarna’s last stage victory on the Dakar. The most recent was the double on the 2020 edition achieved by Pablo Quintanilla. Luciano Benavides has offered the team another one, bringing the brand’s total to 12. For the Argentinean, it is his first stage victory on the Dakar. What’s more, his team-mate Skyler Howes made it a one-two finish for the constructor. The American also retained the lead in the general rankings. Husqvarna, the brand purchased in 2013 by the Pierer Group, which already owns KTM, could enjoy a fine tenth anniversary of this acquisition by winning the Dakar. Husky could follow on from GasGas, the last new brand to join the Mattighofen stable, which tasted victory last year. HVA could become the 7th constructor to write its name on the Dakar roll of honour.
LE COUP DUR DU JOUR
This is one of the days that they will want to forget but which will remain engraved in the memory of the Audi clan. Up to this point and despite several small mishaps along the way, the German constructor genuinely believed in the chances of grabbing victory in Dammam for the first time with an electrically-powered vehicle on the Dakar. However, in the midst of a chain of dunes to be negotiated midway through the stage, this dream-like setting transformed into a nightmarish scene, after 212 km of the special, to be precise. Stéphane Peterhansel and then Carlos Sainz both paid for their ambitions due to uncontrolled acrobatics that were fatal to their hopes. With this double accident, Edouard Boulanger, the co-pilot who contributed to the sole triumph by “Peter” in Saudi Arabia, injured his back whilst the dazed virtuoso driver also headed for hospital for examinations. Carlos Sainz and Lucas Cruz, stood before their damaged Audi RS Q e-tron E2, had all day to meditate their misfortune among the dunes whilst they waited for their assistance truck to arrive. The taste of defeat will be sour, but at least the view was nice…
STAT OF THE DAY: 20
The Dakar is very often a family affair. In the SSV category, the Goczałs are currently having fun, whilst in the truck race, there is the Van Den Brink family. Martin has been one of the pillars of the category for many years with 15 participations, to be precise, including 2023. Inevitably, with that many Dakar rallies in his bag, the most prestigious of rally-raids ends up also becoming a passion for the rest of the entourage. Martin’s son Mitchel obtained the right to contest his first Dakar as co-pilot for his father in 2019 on the last edition of the Dakar in South America at the age of 16 years. Thereafter, he had to wait to blow out his 18 candles to take his place behind the wheel. Following a 19th placed finish in 2021, he returned for more last year and did better by finishing 10th. At this rate, he logically should do even better in 2023… and that is exactly what he did today by obtaining his first stage victory, also becoming the youngest driver to achieve such a feat in the category, which is often characterised by maturity. Incidentally, the young man who will celebrate his 21st birthday the day before this edition of the Dakar finishes already boasts half of the number of his father’s successes!
W2RC: Al Attiyah, THE POINTS MACHINE
Husqvarna and KTM may well be on the Dakar podium after 6 stages, but Honda has placed no less than three of its riders within less than 13 minutes. Strength in numbers has become the speciality of the winged brand and enabled it to become the world champion among constructors last year. In Rally2, Romain Dumontier continues to dominate the category and this was again the case today on the stage and in the general rankings in which he leads Paolo Lucci. In the quad category, Manuel Andújar took advantage of his stage victory to come to within 20 minutes of Pablo Copetti in the general rankings. In the car category, world champion Al Attiyah seems to be a master in the art of staying lucky. The Qatari has already put a serious option out on the top step of the podium. In addition to a healthy amount of points for overall victory for which he has high hopes, he also has three stage victories, bringing him five extra points per win. In the T3 category, like Nasser, Austin Jones retains a lead of one hour over his pursuer Seth Quintero and almost two and a half hours over world number one “Chaleco” López. In the T4 category, Rodrigo Luppi de Oliveira is controlling the return to form of current champion Rokas Baciuška who only regained 7 seconds. Finally, in the truck category, Janus Van Kasteren, the newcomer to W2RC, is still under threat from Martin Macík, who is only 4 minutes behind him in the general rankings. Title holder Kees Koolen is 3rd, 20 minutes behind.
THE MAKINGS OF A CLASSIC
The internecine duel between the two Spanish crews who share the same colours of the Moma Raid Team and the same Toyota HDJ 80 vehicle continued today. Juan Morera and Lidia Ruba, 106th last year in their Panda, occupied the lead in the general rankings this morning and had done so for the last four stages, a dominant position which Carlos Santaolalla and Aran Sol Ijuanda have been trying to contest since the start. Having finished 6th on the last edition, the Catalans have been 2nd in the general rankings for as long as their friends have been out in front. Today, the two men reduced this gap. This third edition of the Classic seems to be set to be one for the European regularity specialists. The Spanish school has authoritatively taken the lead in the first third of the race, with only the Belgians and the Italians, the two other nations with a passion for off-road regularity, seeming able to challenge this supremacy.