2023 Dakar Rally: Kevin Benavides scores walk-off RallyGP win for second Bike overall

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Credit: Marcelo Maragni/Red Bull Content Pool

Perhaps foreshadowing a frustrating World Rally-Raid Championship campaign, Kevin BenavidesDakar Rally Bikes defence in 2022 did not go as hoped as he suffered multiple mechanical failures. Fortunately for him, 2023 was far kinder, a rather ironic twist considering it presented the most difficult route since the Rally’s arrival in Saudi Arabia.

While the likes of Skyler Howes, Toby Price, and even younger brother Luciano Benavides usually headlined the RallyGP stage results, Benavides lurked in podium range. As the Rally entered its closing days, he tailed Howes and Price with 2:40 separating him and the leader Price after the Empty Quarter Marathon. Benavides slipped into second after a dramatic Stage #13 in which he waited to assist his injured Red Bull KTM team-mate Matthias Walkner before rallying to win the leg, following Price by just twelve seconds. He then held off Price in the fourteenth and final stage to win by fifty-five seconds, giving him a forty-three-second edge in the overall.

Benavides joins a small group of riders who won multiple Dakar Rally Bike overalls with different manufacturers, having won in 2021 with Honda before moving to KTM. Cyril Neveu (Yamaha in 1979 and 1980, Honda in 1983, 1986, 1987) and Edi Orioli (Honda in 1988, Cagiva in 1990 and 1994, Yamaha in 1996) are the only others to achieve the feat.

“This was my challenge when I agreed to come to KTM, today I managed to fulfill it. Endless thanks to all the people who support me,” posted Benavides on social media. “I haven’t fallen from the sky yet. […] A kiss to heaven for my friend Paulo (Gonçalves) forever, who I know will always follow me.”

Despite failing to win a stage for the first time in his Dakar career, Price now has six podiums in nine total tries including wins in 2016 and 2019.

“To be honest, I am disappointed, we’ve come so damn far and to fall short by such a small margin is a tough one to swallow,” Price commented. “However, full credit to Kevin, he rode a crazy solid race and I’m really proud of the entire KTM team’s effort, this Dakar has been huge.”

Howes had led much of the Rally before late missteps dropped him to third, though it still makes him the fifth American rider to finish on the overall podium after Danny LaPorte (second in 1992), Jimmy Lewis (third in 2000), Chris Blais (third in 2007), and Ricky Brabec (won in 2020, second in 2021).

“It’s been an incredible race with highs and lows, and it’s come right down to the wire on this final day,” said Howes. “I knew the guys behind me would be pushing so hard today, and to go into this final day less than two minutes behind after well over forty hours of racing is incredible. I arrived at the finish safely, and it feels like a dream come true and such an honour to share it with two legends like Toby and Kevin. Everyone knows what you have to go through to get to this point, and after all that hard work, it makes this moment feel so sweet. Of course, I want to come back and see what the other two steps of the podium feel like, but to now be one of five Americans to reach the podium at Dakar, it feels amazing.”

Much like the four-wheelers, the 2023 Rally’s higher attrition rate knocked out multiple contenders. Reigning champion Sam Sunderland broke his shoulder and suffered a concussion after crashing in Stage #1, which Brabec won before his own accident in Stage #3 led to broken vertebrae. Stage #2 victor and rising star Mason Klein exited after two days of soldiering through pain he incurred in a pair of Stage #9 falls. Daniel Sanders led the overall after Brabec’s exit until a bout with food poisoning severely hampered his performance, but he mustered a top ten.

Despite Brabec’s early retirement and his Monster Energy Honda Rally Team failing to podium, three of the outfit’s four riders plus affiliate Joan Barreda scored a stage win. The exception Pablo Quintanilla still managed to be the highest placing Honda rider overall in fourth. Adrien van Beveren and José Ignacio Cornejo notched top tens, while Barreda won a stage while dealing with a broken toe before crashing out in Stage #8.

The increased difficulty prompted van Beveren to add, “It’s good to be at the finish, I have to be happy even if this is not a dream result. To finish the Dakar Rally is always a victory and now I remember other times where I could finish due to crashes when I was at the hospital looking at the other on TV. We had a really strong race, I have to remember that. I can’t point out one big mistake I made, the race was a sprint almost everyday.”

Hero MotoSports enjoyed a banner Rally as Ross Branch won Stages #8 and #10; the brand was already the first Indian manufacturer to win a Dakar stage. However, Branch finished sixteenth overall after having to claw his way from an early hole brought upon by him running out of fuel in Stage #4. The stage proved to be Hero’s lowest point as Sebastian Bühler exited for the same reason reason and Joaquim Rodrigues, a 2022 stage winner, broke his femur. Otherwise, it was a strong two weeks for Hero as Bühler enjoyed a runner-up in Stage #2 and Franco Caimi placed tenth overall; Caimi’s brother Stefano was also tenth in Rally2.

“Some really nice highlights of the edition are definitely the two stage wins for Ross, a great new record for Hero MotoSports, and a very fine comeback to racing for Buhler, who bagged his first Dakar stage podium, and showcased a good overall performance,” said Hero manager Wolfgang Fischer. “We are however, lacking the overall top result we have been working all year for. We introduced some completely new technology, a throttle-by-wire system to match the new 160-kmph speed limit requirement, etc.

“Nevertheless, apart from one really bad day in Stage #4, where we lost not only JRod, but also our chances for a great overall position for Ross and Bühler who faced fuel supply problems, the race summary has been really positive and promising. I wish JRod a fast recovery, and speedy return to the races.

“This was an especially hard and long Dakar, with two additional days of racing. The prolonged challenges in the Empty Quarter proved the extreme competitiveness of our men and machines. We look forward to the next races with renewed enthusiasm, and we’re hopeful for a great season ahead.”

RallyGP overall top ten

147Kevin BenavidesRed Bull KTM Factory Racing44:27:20Leader
28Toby PriceRed Bull KTM Factory Racing44:28:03+ 00:43
310Skyler HowesHusqvarna Factory Racing44:32:24+ 5:04
47Pablo QuintanillaMonster Energy Honda Rally Team44:46:22+ 19:02
542Adrien van BeverenMonster Energy Honda Rally Team44:47:50+ 20:30
677Luciano BenavidesHusqvarna Factory Racing44:50:02+ 22:42
718Daniel SandersRed Bull GasGas Factory Racing44:53:17+ 25:57
811José Ignacio CornejoMonster Energy Honda Rally Team45:18:41+ 51:21
915Lorenzo Santolino*Sherco Factory Racing45:45:13+ 1:17:53
1033Franco CaimiHero MotoSports Team Rally46:05:24+ 1:38:04
* – Not competing in World Rally-Raid Championship

RallyGP stage winners

Prologue8Toby PriceRed Bull KTM Factory Racing41:50
Stage #12Ricky BrabecMonster Energy Honda Rally Team4:14:10
Stage #29Mason KleinBAS World KTM Racing Team5:23:04
Stage #318Daniel SandersRed Bull GasGas Factory Racing4:24:15
Stage #45Joan Barreda*Monster Energy JB Team4:28:18
Stage #542Adrien van BeverenMonster Energy Honda Rally Team4:27:28
Stage #677Luciano BenavidesHusqvarna Factory Racing3:14:18
Stage #7N/ACancelled due to rainN/AN/A
Stage #816Ross BranchHero MotoSports3:46:18
Stage #977Luciano BenavidesHusqvarna Factory Racing3:18:44
Stage #1016Ross BranchHero MotoSports1:44:00
Stage #1177Luciano BenavidesHusqvarna Factory Racing2:57:59
Stage #1211José Ignacio CornejoMonster Energy Honda Rally Team1:57:27
Stage #1347Kevin BenavidesRed Bull KTM Factory Racing2:21:47
Stage #1447Kevin BenavidesRed Bull KTM Factory Racing1:15:17

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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