2023 Dakar Rally: Hunters sweep Stage 9 Cars podium, troubles sweep others

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Credit: Bahrain Raid Xtreme

It has been a roller coaster of a Dakar Rally for the Prodrive Hunters as their four drivers seemed to bounce between contending for the stage win and being plagued by vehicle problems, plateauing in the second stage when everyone suffered tyre punctures followed by Orlando Terranova‘s retirement two legs later. However, these did not discourage Sébastien Loeb and his fellow remaining Hunters as he, Vaidotas Žala, and Guerlain Chicherit swept the T1 podium in Stage #9.

The trio finished within 2:08 of each other as Loeb scored his third win of 2023 and second in a row. Chicherit passed Mattias Ekström in the final 100 kilometres to join his peers in the top three.

“To head a Prodrive 1–2–3 is great as I tried really hard in the stage to make a good time,” said Loeb. “It was very tricky for the navigation in some places meaning we lost some time in two or three places but I think it was tough for everybody because the tracks from the motorbikes were wrong. Overall, it’s great to now be up to third place as we head towards the Empty Quarter.”

The top three for the Hunters was a reversal of fortunes for the two top manufacturers in the Cars as Toyota’s Hiluxes experienced a bit of an off day by comparison. Romain Dumas was the highest finishing Hilux in fifth while overall leader Nasser Al-Attiyah placed eighth. Al-Attiyah’s Toyota Gazoo Racing team-mate Henk Lategan, who followed him in the general ranking entering the stage, broke a rear damper on the eighteenth kilometre that prompted fellow Hilux Yazeed Al-Rajhi to stop and lend him support; Al-Rajhi was then plagued by suspension problems that ended his stage. Lionel Baud‘s Hilux caught fire after completing six kilometres.

Ironically, despite the rough performance for the Hiluxes, Al-Attiyah’s lead in the overall grew from 1:03:46 to 1:21:57. Hilux racer Lucas Moraes moved up to second with Loeb in tow while Lategan’s problems relegated him to fourth.

Ekström was over five minutes back of Loeb, but making the finish despite falling short of the podium was still a satisfactory result. On the other hand, his Audi team-mate Carlos Sainz rolled after overshooting his landing on a dune after just five kilometres, hurting his torso. Although Sainz was airlifted for treatment, he requested to be flown back to rejoin the race which is permitted twice for FIA Gold and Platinum drivers; Sainz had used the first after crashing in Stage #6. Despite the optimism, the car was too damaged to continue the race.

The brothers Tim and Tom Coronel posted the eighteenth best time in the stage but for naught as they received a fifty-hour time penalty for changing the engine block too many times (a violation of Article 24.2.1 in the FIA Cross-Country Rally Sporting Regulations). Fellow T1 entry Simon Vitse‘s Dakar ended with multiple rolls.

In the Truck category, it was a bad leg for drivers named Martin as Martin van den Brink and Martin Macík Jr. both lost significant time after stopping 136 kilometres in. This helped Janus van Kasteren drive off to his second win ahead of fellow Dutchman Pascal de Baar and slice his deficit on overall leader Aleš Loprais by twelve minutes. Loprais, who finished fourth, remains in front by 26:54.

Problems also befell frontrunners in the Bikes. Joan Barreda crashed on KM 16 and hurt his back, necessitating a helicopter flight to hospital in Riyadh. Mason Klein, who was sitting third in the Bike overall, fell into water early and lost part of his roadbook that was in his vest pocket, forcing him to play catch-up; he then crashed again with Stage #8 winner Ross Branch and fell to twenty-second in the leg and sixth overall.

With Klein and Barreda out, Luciano Benavides scored the stage win to give the family more to celebrate than just his older brother Kevin‘s thirty-fourth birthday. It was the younger Benavides’ second stage victory over the last three legs. Kevin was probably not as thrilled as he lost second overall to Toby Price but remains 5:09 behind Luciano’s Husqvarna team-mate Skyler Howes. Price trails Howes by three seconds.

Laisvydas Kancius also turned his fortunes around by winning the Quads, his first stage win of 2023 after being plagued by mechanical problems over the past two stages including one while leading Stage #8.

Stage #9 winners

T1201Sébastien LoebBahrain Raid Xtreme3:07:24
T2246Akira Miura*Team Land Cruiser Toyota Auto Body4:40:22
T3329David ZilleSouth Racing Can-Am3:38:00
T4428Eryk GoczałEnergyLandia Rally Team3:42:20
T5502Janus van KasterenBoss Machinery Team de Rooy IVECO3:40:52
RallyGP77Luciano BenavidesHusqvarna Factory Racing3:18:44
Rally217Romain DumontierTeam Dumontier Racing3:24:54
Malle Moto40Charan Moore*HT Rally Raid Husqvarna Racing3:52:37
Quad162Laisvydas KanciusStory Racing SRO4:20:14
Classic750Urbano Alfonso Gherardo Clerici*Technosport21 points
* – Not competing in World Rally-Raid Championship

Leaders after Stage #9

T1200Nasser Al-AttiyahToyota Gazoo Racing34:19:20
T2250Ronald Basso*Team Land Cruiser Toyota Auto Body63:06:18
T3304Guillaume de Mevius*GRallyTeam39:41:11
T4400Rokas BaciuškaRed Bull Can-Am Factory Team41:16:37
T5508Aleš Loprais*InstaForex Loprais Praga40:22:59
RallyGP10Skyler HowesHusqvarna Factory Racing33:55:57
Rally217Romain DumontierTeam Dumontier Racing35:34:24
Malle Moto40Charan Moore*HT Rally Raid Husqvarna Racing39:45:12
Quad151Alexandre Giroud*Drag’on Rally Team42:25:05
Classic778Juan Morera*Toyota Classic303 points

Official stage highlights

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