2023 Dakar Rally: Nasser Al-Attiyah returns to winning form as Hunters suffer punctures in Stage 2

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Credit: DPPI/Red Bull Content Pool

The 2023 Dakar Rally promised to be one of the toughest in recent memory, and it’s certainly living up to expectations so far. Stage #2, 431 kilometres in Special Stages from the Sea Camp to Al-‘Ula, brought plenty of rain to the rocky course and attrition across all classes.

I’ve only ever done two Dakar stages, but this one was definitely the toughest one I ever did in my life,” quipped T1 driver Lucas Moraes, who finished eleventh.

By the end, defending winner Nasser Al-Attiyah was able to rebound from his difficult start to lead the T1 category. Fellow Toyota Hilux drivers Lionel Baud, Giniel de Villiers, and Erik van Loon battled for the lead for much of Monday before Al-Attiyah closed the gap and surpassed them with a time of 5:00:26, fourteen seconds quicker than van Loon. Stage #1 winner Carlos Sainz continued Audi’s successful Dakar by joining them on the podium five minutes back. Baud and de Villiers were fifth and sixth, respectively. Another Hilux of Yazeed Al-Rajhi was twelfth after dealing with a broken steering arm and running the final 155 kilometres without brakes.

We suffered one puncture today and we didn’t have any problems bigger than that, so we’re happy,” said Al-Attiyah. Mathieu (Baumel) did a really good job with the navigation, it wasn’t easy today.”

While the Hiluxes got to celebrate, the Prodrive Hunters had to go back to the drawing board. All five drivers recorded uncharacteristically poor results due to tyre punctures that plagued them throughout the stage. Vaidotas Žala was especially unlucky as he lost three tyres after just 100 kilometres and a three-hour wait for the assistance truck to arrive revealed it did not bring enough tyres for him and fellow Hunter Guerlain Chicherit, who came to a stop nearby with three failures of his own. Once more arrived in another truck, Chicherit went to provide help for Sébastien Loeb, also the victim of three blown tyres, while Žala was subsequently plagued by front differential and driveshaft failures that forced him to call it a day. Although not involved in the debacle, Orlando Terranova lost his spares too in the early stages and finished a paltry thirtieth.

Red Bull continued their T3 sweep as Factory Team member Francisco López Contardo led much of the leg before being passed by Mitch Guthrie of the Junior Team and beat him by one minute, twenty-five seconds; Guthrie’s navigator Kellon Walch added to the cheerful atmosphere as the win came on his fortieth birthday. Junior Team colleague Austin Jones looked strong throughout the day but fell to fifth while team-mate Seth Quintero rounded out the podium.

Eryk Goczał, the 18-year-old who surpassed Quintero to become the youngest Dakar stage winner when he claimed T4 in Stage #1, struggled early and had to settle for fifth. Nevertheless, the family was atop the T4 podium as his father Marek Goczał won ahead of Jeremías González Ferioli with a time of 5:45:31 to 5:54:39. Pau Navarro, another teenager who finished second to the younger Goczał the previous stage, had a rough day as he placed twenty-sixth.

Janus van Kasteren was initially the winner in T5 before suffering a fifteen-minute penalty and losing the spot to Aleš Loprais. Martin Macík Jr., victor of the Prologue and Stage #1, struggled to an eighth-place run as the terrain led to a stone getting jammed in the rear brakes.

Rally2 rider and Dakar rookie Michael Docherty continued to impress by vying for the overall Bike lead with the RallyGP of Daniel Sanders. Although Sanders pulled away at the end, he elected to play some strategy by slowing down in the final sector and allow Mason Klein to win as stage winners have to start the next leg ahead of the others. Docherty fell to seventeenth overall. Klein was the first privateer to win a Bike overall stage since Štefan Svitko topped Stage #10 at the 2016 Rally, a feat best exemplified by Klein crowdfunding his trip to Dakar despite winning the World Rally-Raid Championship in Rally2 last year.

Considering the aforementioned challenges that the route presented for the Cars, it perhaps comes with little surprise that Bikes had it rough too. Matthias Walkner described the stage as “probably the most dangerous I’ve ever done in a Dakar race” after crashing into a rock bed 150 kilometres before the finish and breaking a wrist; though he intends to continue the race, he added “it’s very uncertain” due to the pain. Pablo Copetti overcame a wreck of his own to finish second in Quads. Malle Moto rider James Hillier, the first Isle of Man TT winner to attempt Dakar, hurt his left shoulder after crashing 120 km in.

Stage #2 winners

T1200Nasser Al-AttiyahToyota Gazoo Racing5:00:26
T2246Akira Miura*Team Land Cruiser Toyota Auto Body7:13:59
T3314Mitch GuthrieRed Bull Off-Road Junior Team5:38:31
T4401Marek GoczałEnergyLandia Rally Team5:45:31
T5508Aleš Loprais*InstaForex Loprais Praga5:38:18
RallyGP9Mason KleinBAS World KTM Racing Team5:23:04
Rally2111Michael DochertyHT Rally Raid Husqvarna Racing5:29:44
Malle Moto40Charan Moore*HT Rally Raid Husqvarna Racing6:05:49
Quad151Alexandre Giroud*Drag’on Rally Team6:21:06
Classic778Juan Morera*Toyota Classic21 points
* – Not competing in World Rally-Raid Championship

Leaders after Stage #2

T1207Carlos SainzTeam Audi Sport8:34:26
T2246Akira Miura*Team Land Cruiser Toyota Auto Body2:39:15
T3300Francisco López ContardoRed Bull Can-Am Factory Team9:37:36
T4401Marek GoczałEnergyLandia Rally Team10:07:18
T5508Aleš Loprais*InstaForex Loprais Praga9:40:37
RallyGP9Mason KleinBAS World KTM Racing Team9:38:28
Rally2111Michael DochertyHT Rally Raid Husqvarna Racing10:11:01
Malle Moto40Charan Moore*HT Rally Raid Husqvarna Racing10:53:41
Quad151Alexandre Giroud*Drag’on Rally Team11:16:34
Classic778Juan Morera*Toyota Classic106 points

Official stage highlights

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