The scenario that unfolded in the motorbike race was even crazier. In a first for the category, Kevin Benavides seized the lead on the very last day, knocking Toby Price from the top of the general standings to prevail by 43 seconds, the narrowest winning margin ever in the Dakar.
Never before had a biker lost the lead of the Dakar in the last special. And never before had the winner and the runner-up been so evenly matched. An unprecedented scenario that came on the back of another historic first, namely, the mere 12 seconds separating KTM's Toby Price and Kevin Benavides on the eve of the finale. The longest Dakar held in Saudi Arabia came down to a sprint, an exercise that both former enduro riders excel in. Price kicked off the 45th edition by winning the prologue before flying under the radar near the front of the race, like the Argentinian, who only came out of the woods to win stage 13 and swoop down on the Australian. The finish was like a hurdling contest in which every checkpoint was a hurdle. In his own words, Price lost the Dakar by stumbling twice. Kevin confessed that he had to backtrack once to validate a waypoint, but Toby did it three times. At the finish, the Argentinian joined the club of two-time Dakar winners (2021 and 2023), 43 seconds ahead of his new peer (2016 and 2019). He joined the ranks of Auriol, Rahier, Meoni, Price himself and Sunderland. 100th last year due to a broken engine, the new winner, signed by KTM after his success on a Honda, puts an end to three years in which the Dakar was painted red. After two victories for Honda and one for GasGas last year, the orange brand from Mattighofen retook the throne with its nineteenth triumph. Skyler Howes, who rides for their sister team Husqvarna, will stand next to them on the podium, although he deserved so much more in his fifth Dakar. The American wore the leader's mantle for six days before being pipped at the post, but he is pumped and proud to clamber onto the podium for the first time —the fifth for an American biker. The 2023 Dakar tasted like sweet revenge for the big losers of the previous edition, when Price lost big time from the beginning and was unable to finish higher than tenth, his worst result at the finish, while Howes crashed out and Kevin Benavides's motorbike gave up the ghost. This time, the Dakar did not smile on the majority of the 2022 headliners. The race ended prematurely for half of last year's top 10, and not just the minnows.
Sunderland, the defending champion, called it quits in stage 1. The next day, it was Brabec who also fell, followed by Barreda in stage 8. Mason Klein, the top rookie in Jeddah in ninth place, who had seized the lead in stage 2 of this Dakar, threw in the towel in stage 13, while Walkner, on the podium last year, crashed on the eve of the finish. Three other works riders found themselves on the receiving end of the Dakar's ruthlessness. Hero's Joaquim Rodrigues and Sherco's Harith Noah were added to the casualty list in stage 4. The Indian's teammate, Rui Gonçalves, retired in stage 6. In this war of attrition, Honda placed three of its four factory riders in the top 10. Quintanilla finished just outside the podium, ahead of Van Beveren, while Cornejo was eighth. Luciano Benavides (HVA), the most prolific stage hunter of this edition, with three, came in sixth. Daniel Sanders, who again lit up the start of the race before his physical condition took its toll, was seventh. Lorenzo Santolino, eleventh last year, patiently played for time on his Sherco to move up to ninth and retake his place in the top 10 after 2021 (sixth). Franco Caimi (Hero) rounded it the first ten, ensuring that all six factory teams in the 45th edition are represented near the top.
Rally2: "Dudu" fast and solid
After Bradley Cox's premature exit following a fall, the contenders for the Rally2 category quickly stepped to the fore. Paolo Lucci and the rookie Michael Docherty pounced first while the flu-struck Romain Dumontier bided his time. Both the Italian and the South African made mistakes, crashing one after the other on the first few days and leaving the French steamroller to pulverise every pitfall before him at a pace that often saw him match the RallyGP bikers. "Dudu" clinched his maiden win in stage 4, took over the reins of the classification the next day and never looked back. Only his teammate Docherty, who lives in the Emirates, subsequently challenged him for two specials in the Empty Quarter, his adoptive stomping ground. The three men ended up fourteenth through sixteenth. Sixteenth overall, Docherty was also the top rookie of this edition. In the Original by Motul race, for riders without assistance in the bivouac, the South African Charan Moore was the favourite to win the category after finishing fourth in his debut last year. He took the spoils after an epic duel with the Spaniard Javi Vega, on whom he gained the upper hand in the second-last special. The veteran Mário Patrão, a Legend status holder, completed the podium. 15 Original by Motul riders survived the toughest Dakar in the Saudi saga, including Kirsten Landman, a woman. The compatriot of the winner of the category finished second in the women's classification, which went to Mirjam Pol from the Netherlands. The winners of the Rally2, Original by Motul, women's and top rookie competitions all ride for HT Rally Raid Husqvarna Racing. A clean sweep for Henk Hellegers's team of private riders who shine in public! Only the top junior classification escaped his clutches. The Frenchman Jean-Loup Lepan, riding for Nomade Racing, took the competition after finishing fourth in Rally2 and seventeenth overall.
Source A.S.O. / Dakar Rally