2023 Dakar Rally: 18-year-old Eryk Goczal fends off Baciuska for T4 win

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Credit: EnergyLandia Rally Team

The battle for the 2023 Dakar Rally‘s T4 was a tale of two drivers with different backgrounds. In one corner was Rokas Baciuška, the reigning World Rally-Raid Champion now receiving support from SSV powerhouses Red Bull and Can-Am. He faced off against Eryk Goczał, an eighteen-year-old Polish drifting champion with limited cross-country rally experience who just received his driving licence in October. Despite his youth, Goczał proved age matters little as he became the youngest stage and overall winner in Dakar Rally history.

Their duel came down to the fourteenth and final stage, when Baciuška entered with a lead of three minutes and twenty-four seconds over Goczał. However, a broken driveshaft in the closing stretch killed Baciuška’s chances for good as Goczał drove off to win by sixteen minutes.

“I just wanted to be at the finish line in this début start, and we’ve won the rally,” posted Goczał on social media. “It’s been an incredibly difficult rally. Two days ago we’ve made very difficult decision about our strategy. I’m so grateful to my family – to my dad and uncle – about how they helped us. They just put us in the first place and done everything that we could win. And it payed off.”

Baciuška seemed to draw first blood by winning the Prologue and Stage #1, but a fifteen-minute penalty in the latter promoted Goczał to the top spot. Fellow teenager Pau Navarro finished second ahead of Goczał’s uncle Michal Goczał, who is nearly twice his age.

Eryk’s father Marek Goczał, who had the 2022 T4 championship slip away after crashing in the final round in Andalucía, took the second stage. All three family members would win a leg with Eryk notching four, Marek two, and Michal one. By the end, Marek was third behind his son and Baciuška while Michal placed seventh.

Besides Baciuška and the Goczałs, Rodrigo Luppi de Oliveira was the only other driver to lead the general rankings when he was first in Stages #5 and #6. However, an engine failure in Stage #9 ended his hopes of vying for the overall win.

Sébastien Loeb Racing, whose namesake owner finished second in the T1 race, débuted a Polaris T4 programme with former Bike riders Xavier de Soultrait and Florent Vaysadde. While neither had much experience on four wheels, Vaysadde impressed with a tenth-place finish while Soultrait was nineteenth.

Vaysadde’s Polaris RZR was the lone vehicle in the top ten that was not a Can-Am, who has swept the T4 podium every year since 2019. Can-Am has also dominated the adjacent T3 category, where vehicles are purpose built for racing unlike the production models in T4, as Red Bull’s Austin Jones won. T3 runner-up Seth Quintero was previously the youngest Dakar stage winner in 2021, which Goczał surpassed with his Stage #1 triumph as he was roughly a month younger than when Quintero set the record.

Toomas Triisa came short of the top ten in eleventh, but still made history as he and Rally Raid Estonia team-mate Urvo Männama (T1) were the first Estonians to compete at Dakar in an FIA category. With Männama retiring due to a flip in the Empty Quarter Marathon, Triisa became the first of his countrymen to complete the Rally on four wheels. He previously won the Malle Moto subcategory in 2017.

“Our expectations were a bit higher in the beginning, but I think that in the end we can be satisfied with the result,” said Triisa. “In the end, we came away happy. This year, we were in eleventh place. The big goal during the Rally was to be in the top ten and to be in the top ten by the end of the day. We saw our place move up several times but in the end, we finished eleventh.

“The podium dream is still alive. We’ll see what the future brings.”

T4 overall top ten

1428Eryk GoczałOriol MenaEnergyLandia Rally Team53:10:14Leader
2400Rokas BaciuškaOriol Vidal MontijanoRed Bull Can-Am Factory Team53:26:58+ 16:44
3401Marek GoczałMaciej MartonEnergyLandia Rally Team53:28:29+ 18:15
4412Jeremías González Ferioli*Pedro Gonzalo RinaldoSouth Racing Can-Am54:17:14+ 1:07:00
5402Gerard Farrés*Diego OrtegaSouth Racing Can-Am54:59:32+ 1:49:18
6409Bruno Conti de OliveiraPedro Bianchi PrataSouth Racing Can-Am56:12:35+ 3:02:21
7405Michal GoczałSzymon GospodarczykEnergyLandia Rally Team57:12:53+ 4:02:39
8430Sebastian GuayasaminRicardo Adrian TorlaschiSouth Racing Can-Am57:57:48+ 4:47:34
9407Pau NavarroMichael MetgeFN Speed Team58:01:14+ 4:51:00
10418Florent Vayssade*Nicolas ReySébastien Loeb Racing/Bardahl Team59:21:58+ 6:11:44
* – Not competing in World Rally-Raid Championship

T4 stage winners

Prologue400Rokas BaciuškaRed Bull Can-Am Factory Team9:06
Stage #1428Eryk GoczałEnergyLandia Rally Team4:11:58
Stage #2401Marek GoczałEnergyLandia Rally Team5:45:31
Stage #3437Cristiano Batista*South Racing Can-Am4:21:05
Stage #4428Eryk GoczałEnergyLandia Rally Team5:18:41
Stage #5400Rokas BaciuškaRed Bull Can-Am Factory Team5:02:52
Stage #6401Marek GoczałEnergyLandia Rally Team3:43:18
Stage #7400Rokas BaciuškaRed Bull Can-Am Factory Team3:45:34
Stage #8412Jeremías González Ferioli*South Racing Can-Am4:16:18
Stage #9428Eryk GoczałEnergyLandia Rally Team3:42:20
Stage #10402Gerard Farrés*South Racing Can-Am1:58:22
Stage #11400Rokas BaciuškaRed Bull Can-Am Factory Team3:25:13
Stage #12405Michal GoczałEnergyLandia Rally Team2:19:07
Stage #13428Eryk GoczałEnergyLandia Rally Team2:35:13
Stage #14444Carlos Vento Sanchez*Patriot Racing Team1:21:54

Overall winners

T1200Nasser Al-AttiyahToyota Gazoo Racing45:03:15
T2250Ronald Basso*Team Land Cruiser Toyota Auto Body107:39:42
T3303Austin JonesRed Bull Off-Road Junior Team51:55:53
T4428Eryk GoczałEnergyLandia Rally Team53:10:14
T5502Janus van KasterenBoss Machinery Team de Rooy IVECO54:03:33
RallyGP47Kevin BenavidesRed Bull KTM Factory Racing44:27:20
Rally217Romain DumontierTeam Dumontier Racing47:03:58
Malle Moto40Charan Moore*HT Rally Raid Husqvarna Racing52:24:42
Quad151Alexandre Giroud*Drag’on Rally Team56:44:30
Classic778Juan Morera*Toyota Classic428 points
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Justin is not an off-road racer, but he writes about it for The Checkered Flag.
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