SUNDERLAND LOSES BIG TIME
The new year began with the shocking news that the W2RC motorbike world champion was out of the opening leg. Sam Sunderland will be unable to repeat his exploit from last year, when he laid the foundation for his title with a splendid brace in the first part of the 2022 season. He now faces an uphill battle to drag himself back into contention after drawing a blank in the Dakar. Season 2 is more open than ever. The Rally2 race also saw a major contender knocked out of the event, in this case, due to an injured elbow. Bradley Cox was leading the stage and had a real shot at succeeding Mason Klein on the throne, but he instead had to withdraw from the Dakar on day one. Paolo Lucci (BAS World KTM Racing) seized the opportunity to outfox Camille Chapelière (Team Casteu), with the overall standings placing the same two competitors in the same order. In the T3 race, the dominant force of the 2022 W2RC, "Chaleco" López, bared his teeth at his runner-up, Quintero, and his new teammate, Austin Jones. The same Red Bull Can-Am Factory and Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team USA 1-2-3 can be seen in the overall standings. In the T4 category, Eryk Goczał made W2RC history by winning a stage on his very first outing! In the T5 category, Martin Macík has been in a league of his own since the start of the Dakar. Among the car drivers, Carlos Sainz made the right choice to sign up for the 2023 W2RC and captured the stage win and the overall lead ahead of Loeb and Al Rajhi. With Chicherit, Al Attiyah, Ekström and Peterhansel within striking distance, it is all to play for.
LET THE HUNT BEGIN
With the misfortunes of the BRX team, Loeb, Chicherit and Terranova really do not have any other choice apart from going hell for leather until Dammam, which is their only hope to dream of seizing the opportunities that are bound to arise over the next twelve days of racing. It is also a strategy enabled by the W2RC which offers a second chance of success when fortune has not smiled upon you, because between 5 and 1 points will be available each day for the first 5 competitors on each stage. This is a game that Sébastien Loeb already played last year after a similar mishap distanced him from triumph, but which let him fill up on points and remain in contact with the winner of the Dakar Nasser Al Attiyah.
A WASH OUT FOR SOME, A STRAIGHT FLUSH FOR OTHERS
Following current FIM title holder Sam Sunderland two days ago, it was the turn of his runner-up Ricky Brabec to leave the Dakar prematurely and miss out on the biggest potential harvest of points in the season. There has been a distinct reshuffling of the pack after only three stages of the championship.
On the contrary, in the car category, Nasser Al Attiyah and Yazeed Al Rajhi, the two spearheads of the Toyota team who won their constructor the trophy in 2022, currently sit solidly in the lead on the first leg.
Thanks to his victory today, Guerlain Chicherit has begun to collect stage victory points, which could pay off when it comes time to the crunch, as there are still 11 stages to go before the final finishing line!
LOEB ON A CRUSADE
Like last year, GasGas can only count on one of its riders alone to win the first leg in 2023. This year, it is Daniel Sanders and, despite a day when he was less consistent than the others, he still leads the general rankings. In the Rally 2 class, the race to succeed Mason Klein seems to be a duel between his runner-up last year Romain Dumontier (HT Rally Husqvarna Racing) and Paolo Lucci (BAS World KTM Racing) since Bradley Cox exited the rally early due to injury. The Italian triumphed today, but the Frenchman remains in charge of the general rankings ahead of the Italian. In the quad race, the arrival this season of Manuel Andújar, who won the Dakar in 2021, is sowing seeds of doubt in the protagonists of season 1, namely Laisvydas Kancius and Pablo Copetti. The Argentinean currently leads the W2RC rankings. In the car category, following Guerlain Chicherit’s victory yesterday, it was the turn of Sébastien Loeb to bounce back. While his success is no form of consolation for time missed out in the lead on the Dakar, it will perhaps offer him the possibility of 5 points in Dammam, which could make the difference. Peterhansel and Sainz, both on the day’s podium, are also gleaning points for stage wins that could be a game-changer when it comes to the crunch. In the T3 category, the five crews of the Red Bull dream team are taking over, as they occupy the first five places in the general rankings. In the T4 race, world number one Rokas Baciuška is for the moment under threat but remains on the provisional podium, behind Rodriguo Luppi de Oliveira and Eryk Goczał. In the truck category, Martin Macík launched his comeback. The Czech driver regained twelve minutes on his direct rival in the championship Janus Van Kasteren who only leads by 26 minutes. There are still 30 days of racing in the 2023 championship, so it is all to play for!
STEADY AS IT GOES FOR CHAMPION AL ATTIYAH
The hierarchy installed in the W2RC is already under dispute after only five stages of the first leg. Indeed, only Nasser Al Attiyah seems to be in control of the situation. However, the world champion is already seeing double. Peterhansel and Sainz have replaced his usual rival Loeb. In the T3 category, Austin Jones will have no regrets about joining this category because in the provisional rankings he leads his team-mates in the Red Bull Off-Road Jr Team and Red Bull Can-Am Factory. In the T4 category, Rodrigo Luppi de Oliveira from South Racing Can-Am can start to believe in his dream of dancing the samba in Dammam, but his two pursuers Eryk Goczał and Rokas Baciuška are hot on his heels. In the truck category, the battle between Janus Van Kasteren and Martin Macík is now in the favour of the Dutchman who has regained six minutes over the Czech driver. In the bike category, Skyler Howes seems to be building on the momentum of his impeccable end to last season, yet there are ten riders who can also dream of success, ten within ten minutes within the top 10. In the Rally2 class, the fall suffered by HT Rally Raid Husqvarna Racing’s Paolo Lucci has given breathing space to the runner-up in the 2022 season. BAS World KTM Racing’s Romain Dumontier has regained the provisional lead in the championship. As for the quads, the illustrious newcomer Manuel Andújar is bearing the consequences of the consistency shown by Laysvidas Kancius and Pablo Copetti
A SANDY BOULEVARD OPENS UP FOR AL ATTIYAH
Husqvarna and KTM may well be on the Dakar podium after 6 stages, but Honda has placed no less than three of its riders within less than 13 minutes. Strength in numbers has become the speciality of the winged brand and enabled it to become the world champion among constructors last year. In Rally2, Romain Dumontier continues to dominate the category and this was again the case today on the stage and in the general rankings in which he leads Paolo Lucci. In the quad category, Manuel Andújar took advantage of his stage victory to come to within 20 minutes of Pablo Copetti in the general rankings. In the car category, world champion Al Attiyah seems to be a master in the art of staying lucky. The Qatari has already put a serious option out on the top step of the podium. In addition to a healthy amount of points for overall victory for which he has high hopes, he also has three stage victories, bringing him five extra points per win. In the T3 category, like Nasser, Austin Jones retains a lead of one hour over his pursuer Seth Quintero and almost two and a half hours over world number one “Chaleco” López. In the T4 category, Rodrigo Luppi de Oliveira is controlling the return to form of current champion Rokas Baciuška who only regained 7 seconds. Finally, in the truck category, Janus Van Kasteren, the newcomer to W2RC, is still under threat from Martin Macík, who is only 4 minutes behind him in the general rankings. Title holder Kees Koolen is 3rd, 20 minutes behind.
AL ATTIYAH AND BACIUŠKA SHOW WHO'S BOSS
Nasser Al Attiyah stayed in control of the first round with nearly two hours in hand over Sébastien Loeb, his closest rival in the W2RC, while their motorbike and quad counterparts sat out the stage. In T3, Austin Jones, sixth today, remains ensconced in the lead of the Dakar. In T4, Rodrigo Luppi de Oliveira lost the lead in both the general standings and the championship (see A crushing blow). The reigning champion, Rokas Baciuška, managed to turn the tide and reclaim the top spot in a single stage! Finally, Janus van Kasteren again beat the other participants in the truck category and defended his lead in the championship. Martin Macík is close behind, while the title holder, Kees Koolen, is stuck in the doldrums nearly four hours behind the leader.
NASSER AND ROKAS RIGHT WHERE THEY BELONG
Nasser Al Attiyah, the reigning world champion in cars, and Rokas Baciuška, who won the T4 category in 2022, are the only two title holders who have made it to the rest day at the top of their categories. The Qatari is more secure in his position than any other leader, with nearly two hours in hand over his direct rival in the championship, Sébastien Loeb. The Lithuanian is not so lucky, with Goczał Sr and Jr five minutes behind him. "Chaleco" López has been nigh-unbeatable for a year, but he faces a much more complicated second week than his T1 and T3 counterparts. Austin Jones, now his stablemate, holds a lead of one hour over Seth Quintero and two and a half over the Chilean. In the motorbike category, Sunderland's early exit, combined with a top 10 packed tighter than an air filter casing, means it is all to play for.