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Dakar 2024: After the Empty Quarter - Challenger and SSV

Dakar 2024: After the Empty Quarter - Challenger and SSV

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  • After six stages and a total of eight days of racing, including the prologue in AlUla, the 46th edition of the Dakar has been a roller-coaster of breakthrough performances, vindications, debacles, plot twists, comebacks and surprises on the tracks and dunes of Saudi Arabia. The culmination of the first week, the brand-new 48H Chrono concept, scattered drivers and co-drivers across the Empty Quarter and delivered on its promise: nearly every category saw a change in leadership as the field emerged from the dunes, just before the rest day in Riyadh.
  • Exactly at the midpoint, with another 2,384 kilometres of specials on equally diverse terrains ahead, the big kahunas will now get to grips with the return trip in their bids to claim victory in Yanbu: Ricky Brabec and his Honda teammates have laid down a marker; Carlos Sainz and Mattias Ekström's Audis are calling the shots ahead of Sébastien Loeb; Eryk Goczał is trouncing the opposition in the Challenger class; Yasir Seaidan's dominance in SSV race is softening the blow of Yazeed Al Rajhi's exit for the Saudi fans; and Martin Macík rolled into the capital as the king of the juggernauts.
  • All in all, 291 out of the 330 vehicles at the start have completed the first half of the rally, including 111 motorbikes (out of 122), 8 quads (out of 10) for the FIM entrants; and 59 Ultimate cars (out of 70), 40 Challenger cars (out of 42), 30 SSVs (out of 36), 3 Stock cars (out of 3) and 40 trucks (out of 47).
  • The Spaniard Carlos Santaolalla continues to deliver a masterclass in the Dakar Classic regularity race.

CHALLENGER: "LITTLE" GOCZAŁ WINS BIG

Austin Jones was a known quantity. Crowned in the SSV category in 2022, the American stole the show last season in his first appearance in the next-higher class, Challenger, once dubbed the T3 or lightweight prototype class. Eryk Goczał, son of Marek and nephew to Michał, is now carving out a similar path, except for the fact that this is only the Pole's second Dakar. At the tender age of 19, he is already making short work of the few opponents standing between him and the title, starting with the threats from his own stable. Eryk won the prologue, made it two in a row the next day and completed a three-peat in stage 2. His uncle's and his father's valiant attempts to steal the limelight came to naught. The runner-up to Seth Quintero in the W2RC Championship (T3), Mitch Guthrie, the brains behind the new Taurus T3 Max also in the Goczał arsenal, managed to deny Eryk what would have been his fourth consecutive win by a razor-thin margin of under a minute. "Chaleco" López, one of the most experienced drivers in the competition, posted the fastest time in stage 5, beating Jones, the reigning champion, and… Eryk, who bagged his fifth win in the 48H Chrono. The Pole and his right-hand man, Oriol Mena, effortlessly surfed the dunes of the Empty Quarter, wrapping up the opening week with five wins, a single puncture and a lead of more than an hour over Guthrie and almost an hour and a half over Cristina Gutiérrez and López in the overall. For sure, things can change at the drop of a hat in the Dakar, but it is hard to see who could stop "little" Goczał in his quest for a second consecutive title.

SSV: GAME OF THRONES

The Goczał clan and Rokas Baciuška left for greener pastures, throwing the SSV competition wide open, as can be seen from the fact that there have been five different victors in seven specials. Unsurprisingly, no one contender stands head and shoulders above the rest. Gerard Farrés had a promising start, no doubt. The Spaniard, a two-time podium finisher in SSV (2019 and 2022), clinched stage 2 and seized the lead until he hit a chott in stage 5. He rolled over and had to wait for his support crew for nearly two hours before getting back on the move. Jérôme de Sadeleer inherited the Dakar lead. The Swiss, who had to skip the 2023 edition due to an injury sustained in an LMP3 race, lost half an hour on the dunes of the 48H Chrono and surrendered the overall lead to Yasir Seaidan. Standing on the podium of each special since his stage 3 win, the Saudi driver finished the first week at the summit of the leader board. Three minutes behind him is Sara Price, racing in her Dakar debut after finishing second in the Rallye du Maroc and picking up two stage wins along the way, with Xavier de Soultrait a further two minutes back. Some entrants have tasted glory both on bikes and in cars, including Stéphane Peterhansel, Cyril Despres and, now, "XdS". Securing victory in the prologue, the Frenchman laid down the gauntlet, showcasing Polaris's ambitions with their new RZR. As the saying goes, "a year to learn, a year to win". Had it not been for a gearbox glitch in stage 3, De Soultrait would definitely be leading the SSV standings, bolstered by a hat-trick of victories including the 48H Chrono. Keep a close eye on the Sébastien Loeb Racing crew, unless the winner of stage 4, João Ferreira, Price or De Sadeleer have other plans in mind.

 

 

Source: A.S.O. / Dakar Rally
Photo: A.S.O./F.Lefloc'h/DPPI

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