The Stage 3 included huge sandy dunes.
The Stage 3 included huge sandy dunes.A.S.O./Antonin Vincent

2024 Dakar Rally Stage 3: Harith Noah becomes the first Indian to achieve a podium in Dakar, first marathon stage makes the journey tougher and more

Stage 3 was the first marathon stage and brought with it new challenges for the competitors. Several noted riders also retired from Dakar today

Stage 3 and Stage 4 make up the first Marathon Stage of the 2024 Dakar Rally. On the first day (Stage 3), contenders travelled from Al Duwadimi to Al Salamiya totalling 733km. Competitors navigated a challenging route spanning a 295km liaison and a 438km special stage across rocky terrains, and sandy dune sections. With a strict limitation of only two hours for vehicle assistance post-stage, this made the contenders think a lot more before putting their foot down recklessly. Highlights of this stage included Harith Noah getting India’s first podium at Dakar, Hero MotoSports continuing its lead in Bikes for the third day, Kevin Benavides’ victory in the Bikes, and setbacks for Hero and GasGas as Sebastian Buhler crashed out and Sam Sunderland retired because of a mechanical issue. In the cars, Lucas Moraes claimed his first stage win, with Yazeed Al Rajhi taking the overall lead. The quads saw Alexandre Giroud's commanding performance challenge Marcelo Medeiros, and in the trucks, Ales Loprais overcame Janus van Kasteren to take the overall lead.

2024 Dakar Rally Stage 3: Bikes

During Stage 3 of the Dakar Rally, Monster Energy Honda rider Pablo Quintanilla initially led for most of the day, showing strong performance alongside teammate and yesterday’s winner Jose Ignacio Cornejo. Quintanilla, aiming for his seventh career stage win, was at the forefront, closely followed by competitors like Hero’s Joan Barreda and Red Bull KTM’s Kevin Benavides. Hero MotoSports’ Ross Branch followed closely and finished fifth. The stage saw mechanical issues for Red Bull GasGas’ Sam Sunderland, leading to his withdrawal, and a serious crash for Hero’s Sebastian Buhler, who was assisted by Red Bull KTM’s Toby Price and Honda’s Skyler Howes. Buhler's accident resulted in his evacuation for medical checks and the retirement of yet another rider from the Hero team. Howes and Price were recredited time for assisting Buhler, improving their final positions for the stage.

However, the day ended with a twist as penalties for speeding were handed out to several riders, including Quintanilla, Barreda, Brabec, and Branch. As a result, Kevin Benavides (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) was declared the stage winner, marking his first victory in this edition of the Dakar and his eighth overall, equaling the record of Sam Sunderland and KTM legend Alfie Cox. Benavides was followed by Honda’s Ricky Brabec and Adrien Van Beveren. Branch improved his lead to 3 minutes 11 seconds ahead of Cornejo and 5 minutes 08 seconds in front of Brabec. Winner Benavides reflected on the day saying, “Today, I really focused on my navigation. There were a lot of tracks in front of me, but I was really focused on doing my own way. The stage was very long and it was a tough day. I’m happy with the feeling and I think I did some good work. So that’s one more day down”.

2024 Dakar Rally Stage 3: Hero MotoSports at Dakar

Although Ross Branch is still leading the overall rankings, the day was highlighted by the retirement of Sebastian Buhler who crashed out at the 360km mark in Special Stage 3, now leaving only two riders in the Dakar out of the original four that entered. 

Ross Branch rode well and finished 5th in the stage which was crucial for maintaining his overall lead which has now increased to 3 minutes 11 seconds. Joan Barreda Bort finished 15th, moving to 12th in the overall rankings.

2024 Dakar Rally Stage 3: Indians at Dakar

Harith Noah has made history for India! Continuing his steady progress in Stage 3, Harith finished 3rd in the Rally 2 class of the bikes, making himself the first Indian to ever do so. Overall in Bikes, he finished 17th in the stage and moved up to 18th in the overall rankings. The Sherco TVS Rally factory rider laid out the day’s goal saying, “Today was supposed to be difficult navigation, especially towards the end. I focused on it as much as could rather than speed. It was also very important to get the bike through today without any crashes or problems as it’s a marathon stage with only 2 hours of service post-stage. Tonight we all will be sleeping in the tents in the middle of the desert”.

2024 Dakar Rally Stage 3: Cars

During Stage 3 of the Dakar Rally for cars, the day unfolded with intense competition and several fluctuations in the lead. Team Audi Sport’s Stephane Peterhansel commenced the stage, aiming to secure his 51st career car stage victory to claim an exclusive record. Meanwhile, Overdrive Racing’s Yazeed Al Rajhi, after some navigation issues the previous day, made a comeback. His teammate Guillaume De Mevius also showcased a competitive edge, initially leading the pack before Rebellion Racing’s Romain Dumas overtook him. 

Lucas Moraes of Toyota Gazoo, however, came out on top securing his maiden stage victory at the finish line, followed closely by Mattias Ekstrom and Yazeed Al Rajhi of Audi and Overdrive Racing respectively. Al Rajhi’s strong finish propelled him to the top of the overall standings, holding a 29-second lead over Carlos Sainz.

2024 Dakar Rally Stage 3: Quads

Taguatur Racing Team’s Marcelo Medeiros began as the frontrunner but faced a challenging day as Alexandre Giroud (Yamaha Racing-SMX-Drag'On) surged ahead, exhibiting dominance throughout the race. Giroud, initially discreet in the first two stages, showcased a remarkable performance, leading the pack and securing his 11th Dakar stage win, finishing just 18 seconds ahead of Manuel Andujar (7240 Team/Dragon Rally Service). Despite Medeiros' previous strong showings, he struggled, falling behind Giroud by over 20 minutes, leading to Juraj Varga of Varga Motorsport claiming the overall lead. Giroud's powerful performance not only earned him the stage victory but also closed the gap in the general rankings, positioning him 22 minutes behind Varga.

2024 Dakar Rally Stage 3: Trucks

As expected, Janus van Kasteren initially dominated, maintaining the lead at the first three checkpoints and aiming for his fourth consecutive stage win. However, the dynamics changed dramatically after 310km, with Van Kasteren losing his lead and more than 13 minutes. Ales Loprais capitalised on this, taking the lead from Van Kasteren and extending his advantage in subsequent sectors. Martin Macik briefly threatened Loprais but ultimately remained behind. Loprais secured victory in this stage, also taking the lead in the overall rankings with a 3-minute 15-second advantage over Van Kasteren, marking a significant shift in the Trucks category of the rally.

Stage 3 proved to be a lot different from the previous days as it shook up the rankings in almost all categories. The marathon stage’s first day posed additional challenges for the Dakar contenders on top of what is already turning out to be one of the toughest Dakars ever. For us, it was highlighted by the fact that Harith Noah has put India on the Dakar map, encouraging generations to come.

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