Dakar

2024 Dakar Rally: Stage 1 proves to be “survival stage”

4 Mins read
Credit: Eric Vargiolu/DPPI/Red Bull Content Pool

If the Dakar Rally‘s Prologue stage was a sucker punch to the mouth, Stage #1 was more like a giant kick to the groin. While many expected the 2024 edition to be one of the most difficult since the rally’s move to Saudi Arabia, they likely did not forsee the opening stage to be especially brutal. Many competitors especially early favourites ended up retiring after just two days of racing after crashing or suffering some other painful misfortune in the 405 kilometres of canyons and volcanic lava.

Seth Quintero described the leg as “probably the hardest Dakar stage we’ve ever seen,” while Sam Sunderland regarded the post-refuel segment as “some of the worst kilometres I’ve done in my life.” Austin Jones echoed the sentiment, calling it the “hardest opening stage of any Dakar I’ve ever done.” Benediktas Vanagas went as far as to call it a “survival stage” that the Amaury Sport Organisation “immediately threw us into.”

This was particularly apparent in the RallyGP class, where Tosha Schareina went from winning the Prologue to out of the race entirely when he crashed 240 kilometres in while running second and hurt his arm. Ross Branch stopped to provide assistance, earning him twenty-seven minutes in time credits that boosted him to the stage win over Ricky Brabec and Mason Klein. Branch notched his third career stage win at Dakar and assumed the overall lead, the latter a first for Hero MotoSports.

It was not an all celebratory feeling for Hero, however, as Joaquim Rodrigues hit a rock at KM 82 and smashed his head into the ground, briefly knocking him unconscious. His Hero colleagues Joan Barreda and Sebastian Bühler, along with Maciej Giemza and Stefan Svitko, waited with him and all earned time removed; Bühler also fell earlier in the stage and damaged his handlebar. Rodrigues ultimately did not suffer any head injury but fractured his thumb, continuing a difficult year for him after breaking his femur at the 2023 Dakar Rally then hurting his shoulder the day before what was supposed to be his racing return at the Rallye du Maroc in October.

“Today is a day of mixed emotions for us. The light and shadow are very close in this year’s Dakar: an unfortunate exit for JRod, and Ross wins his third stage for Hero, all in the same day,” said Hero manager Wolfgang Fischer. “The victory is also at a great margin, and we are extremely proud to put Hero on the overall lead at the Dakar Rally for the first time in our history. I look forward to a great race ahead.”

In Rally2, Michael Docherty was forced to bow out when he hurt his hip in a crash at KM 323 while leading. Ashish Raorane and Xavier Flick broke their collarbone and wrist after wrecking, respectively, ending their races as well. Simon Marcic successfully completed the stage after a rock at the forty-kilometre mark broke the rear suspension link on his bike and eventually shredded his fuel tank, followed by the rear shock absorber breaking off, while Ronald Venter overcame two crashes and losing his front brakes to a bent disc rotor to do the same. Isaac Feliu had a brutally heartbreaking end to his day as his battery failed just fifty kilometres from the finish.

Trouble struck the FIA categories well before the stage even began for them when Brian Baragwanath and Martin Prokop arrived late. Lionel Baud became the first car to start the day, only to accidentally collide with a spectator just 200 metres into the stage; the fan suffered minor injuries and was treated at hospital, though the medical response forced the FIA start to be postponed by an hour. The stage was also shortened to 280 km for Trucks.

Disaster continued among the four-wheelers after the delay as tyre punctures plagued many contenders. The Prodrives of Nasser Al-Attiyah and Sébastien Loeb lost significant ground to tyres going down, the latter also breaking a steering arm. After a navigation error in the Prologue, Al-Attiyah’s flats relegated him to a dismal twenty-second in Stage #1; Tim and Tom Coronel could relate to Al-Attiyah’s difficult start as both also had the same mistake on Friday followed by blown tyres on Saturday. Kris Meeke had two punctures and fell behind by over an hour, which the WRC veteran equated to dropping a minute and thirty seconds on the first stage of a traditional rally.

Guillaume de Mévius survived the drama to score his maiden Dakar stage win and assume the overall lead with Carlos Sainz in tow. Sainz’s runner-up finish was a strong conclusion after suffering three flats, though Al-Attiyah openly questioned if it actually happened and remarked that “if he had three punctures, he would still be there (in the stage).” Prologue winner Mattias Ekström was set back by a flat too but mustered a tenth-place run.

While the Prologue results did not count towards the overall times for the FIA classes, Eryk Goczał and Janus van Kasteren were the only winners from Friday who continued their momentum by claiming Stage #1 in the Challenger and Truck classes. In the production-based SSV class, Xavier de Soultrait struggled but still managed a fifth while Rodrigo Varela notched his maiden stage victory.

On the opposite end of the finishing order, the steering arm on Ronan Chabot‘s Toyota Hilux broke off and he and co-driver Gilles Pillot struggled to replace it without the proper tools on hand until their team arrived. They were able to reach the finish afterwards, albeit as the last Ultimate car. Patricia Pita rolled her Century CR6 which left the vehicle on its roof until the Prodrive of Feilong Liu arrived to flip it back; fellow Century driver Dominique Housieaux ended up embedded in the dirt and failed to finish the stage.

In Mission 1000 for alternative-powered vehicles, all competitors but the Tacita electric bike of Oscar Polli completed the full 70.6 kilometres, with Polli retiring after 27 km.

Stage #1 winners

ClassNumberCompetitorTeamTime
Ultimate (T1)221Guillaume de MéviusOverdrive Racing4:35:59
Stock (T2)501Ronald Basso*Team Land Cruiser Toyota Auto Body7:09:25
Challenger (T3)302Eryk GoczałEnergyLandia Rally Team5:14:18
SSV (T4)416Rodrigo Varela*BBR Motorsport5:33:37
Truck (T5)600Janus van Kasteren*Boss Machinery Team de Rooy4:55:25
RallyGP46Ross BranchHero MotoSports4:56:01
Rally218Bradley CoxBAS World KTM Racing Team5:08:55
Malle Moto96Tobias EbsterKini Rally Racing Team5:42:43
Quad177Marcelo MedeirosTaguatur Racing Team6:16:25
Classic702Lorenzo Traglio*Tecnosport38 points
Mission 10009-way tie9-way tie9-way tie10 points
* – Not competing in World Rally-Raid Championship

Leaders after Stage #1

ClassNumberCompetitorTeamTime
Ultimate (T1)221Guillaume de MéviusOverdrive Racing4:35:59
Stock (T2)501Ronald Basso*Team Land Cruiser Toyota Auto Body7:09:25
Challenger (T3)302Eryk GoczałEnergyLandia Rally Team5:14:18
SSV (T4)416Rodrigo Varela*BBR Motorsport5:33:37
Truck (T5)600Janus van Kasteren*Boss Machinery Team de Rooy4:55:25
RallyGP46Ross BranchHero MotoSports5:13:55
Rally218Bradley CoxBAS World KTM Racing Team5:28:48
Malle Moto96Tobias EbsterKini Rally Racing Team6:05:19
Quad177Marcelo MedeirosTaguatur Racing Team6:41:34
Classic702Lorenzo Traglio*Tecnosport38 points
Mission 10009-way tie9-way tie9-way tie10 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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