Dakar Rally 2023: Hero MotoSport Team Rally enters Dakar seventh time
Few motorsport events are as gruelling a test of man and machine like the famed Dakar Rally, now in its 45th edition. Dakar 2023 is the fourth consecutive edition of the rally in Saudi Arabia, and it will run for 14 stages (two stages more than before) over 15 days. The Dakar Rally 2023 is also the seventh consecutive edition in which the Hero MotoSports Team Rally has taken part, with a squadron of four riders taking place in the Rally GP class. This includes Franco Caimi, Joaqium Rodrigues (also known as “J-Rod”), Ross Branch and Sebastian Buhler. As the action continues to unfold at the world's toughest race, here’s an update on what we know so far.
Dakar Rally 2023: Prologue
Hero MotoSport kicked off their Dakar campaign on December 31, 2022 on a strong wicket, with three of the team’s four riders finishing the 13 km long Prologue stage in the top 10 positions. Ross Branch was on the podium in 3rd place, with J-Rod finishing in 6th and Sebastian Buhler coming in 8th position. Franco Caimi on the other hand, finished in 20th position in the Rally GP Class. After a short start podium ceremony, the riders completed the short 13km ride to the sea-front, and the top finishers received the advantage of choosing their starting positions for the first official stage that would begin on January 1, 2023.
Dakar Rally 2023: Stage 1
The first stage of the Dakar took riders on a 603km loop around Sea Camp, with 367km forming the special sedition. The route consisted of sandy tracks following stony sections with a gravel – giving riders the first taste of desert in the eastern region. The Dakar Rally now travels inland towards Hai’il, heading in the south-east direction to cross the infamous Empty Quarter, then proceeding to move northwards towards the final finish at Dammam on January 15, 2023.
The first taste of the desert wasn’t kind to the competitors, the stony sections causing several crashes. Ross Branch suffered a few unfortunate crashes in Stage 1, which led to him losing time. The Botwswanan however made a strong comeback, finishing in 12th place in the overall rankings. Just behind him in 13th place was his teammate Sebastian Buhler, who returned to the Dakar after a gap year. The first stage was not the best for J-Rod, yet his consistent ride to the finish meant he managed to finish in the top 20, in 18th place. Franco Caimi’s pace was slowed down too, due to rocks and gravel in the stage. Caimi managed to pick up the momentum towards the end of the stage, finishing in 19th position overall.
With Stage 2, Dakar 2023 moves away from Sea Camp, with competitors making their journey inwards to Al‘Ula, covering a distance of 589km of which 430km is timed. While the route has a major share of closed tracks which demand top handling skills, it also promises to be a visual treat for the competitors with its landscapes and splendid canyons towards the finish line. Here’s what the overall standings look like after Stage 1.
Provisional Overall Rankings (Rally GP Class)
P1: Ricky Brabec (Monster Energy Honda Team) – 4h14m10s
P2: Kevin Benavides (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) – +19s
P3: Toby Price (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) – +39s
P13: Ross Branch (Hero MotoSports Team Rally) – + 8m27s
P14: Sebastian Buhler (Hero MotoSports Team Rally) – + 8m39s
P18: Joaquim Rodrigues (Hero MotoSports Team Rally) – +13m10s
P19: Franco Caimi (Hero MotoSports Team Rally) – +13m16s