The penultimate stage of the 2023 Dakar, which usually confirms the name of the rally’s winner, was a sprint through the dunes that maintains the suspense in the motorcycle category. The end is expected photo finish in Damam. The Australian Toby Price maintains the lead of the test with just 12 seconds ahead of his KTM teammate, the Argentine Kevin Benavides. A precious duel between champions that once again highlights the beauty and complexity of the race, capable of being decided in the final 136 kilometers after a journey of 4,000 through Saudi Arabia. This Sunday, at the finish line, it will be possible to witness the tightest finish in history since official records were kept. In 1994, Jordi Arcarons lost the Dakar by 73 seconds to Edi Orioli, but the short and fast special along the beach augurs even smaller differences.
Benavides, the first South American champion of the category in 2021, won the thirteenth stage (2h21m47s) with intrigue after losing 23 minutes and 10 seconds helping Matthias Walkner, who fell and abandoned at km 55 of the timed start of the desert of Rub’al Khali. The Austrian was taken conscious and with back pain to the hospital. It took the organization around three hours to make up for the Argentine lost time to confirm his victory, another dose of concentrated uncertainty after a rather quiet second week. “Argentina couldn’t beat Saudi Arabia in the World Cup in Qatar, but let’s see if I can tomorrow,” the pilot joked about his particular final. “12 seconds is nothing. He is going to be very tight, but anything can happen”. Last year, he ended up tearfully retiring on stage ten, when his KTM’s engine said enough was enough.
The emotion contained in the two marathon days spilled over on Saturday with a one-on-one duel between Skyler Howes (Husqvarna) and Price, who were tied short throughout the special. Both made a subtle navigation error, but it was Husqvarna’s that derailed enough to lose much of his overall chance. He is now a minute and a half behind the leader after starting the day less than a half behind. “I have given everything”, explained the mustachioed American, who fell in the initial section and then continued with some nerves. “I wanted to get there in one piece. The last stage will be very fast and I don’t think I can change things”, predicted the pilot of the Swedish brand, owned by the KTM group. He was aiming to become the first Dakar champion who has never won a special stage on the event.
The leader had to open the track at times and earned a bonus of 1m42s that could be decisive towards his third alirón. He, too, fell into the soft dunes, but was able to recover. “I made a small mistake at km 130 and I drifted a bit away. I have fallen while climbing a dune. He had to take the reins and attack to the end. Whatever happens, I’m happy, I’ve given my best every day”. If he confirms his victory tomorrow, Price will become the seventh driver to lift three Touaregs. “It is crazy to reach the last day like this, there is no possible way to manage it. It’s about going full throttle and hoping for the best.”
After the retirements of Walkner and Mason Klein, who suffered from some discomfort in his neck, Lorenzo Santolino slips into the top ten overall. The 35-year-old from Salamanca, from the Spanish-French factory Sherco, will finish ninth, more than an hour behind the winner except for a major surprise.
Loeb breaks the record for consecutive victories
In cars, although the fish was sold during the first week of calamities for the main favourites, Sébastien Loeb (BRX) chained his sixth consecutive stage victory to surpass the record of Ari Vatanen, who had achieved five in a row in 1989. It is the seventh triumph of the Frenchman in the 2023 edition, where he lost all his options after a rollover and three punctures in the initial section of the test. “It’s great, even if the record was not one of my stated goals. Above all, I wanted to consolidate my second position”, celebrated the nine-time World Rally Champion.
Nasser Al-Attiyah (Toyota), who has been managing an income always higher than the hour on the second classified since the sixth special, left another five and a half minutes with the Frenchman and caresses his fifth Touareg. Except for a disastrous breakdown in the process to Dammam, the Qatari will repeat the crown and will become the main dominator of the rally since its dispute in Saudi Arabia (two victories and two second places). “It’s been a fantastic race for us, now we just need to take the title home,” he explained. The podium will be completed by another Toyota, that of the Brazilian rookie Luca Moraes.
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