Ekstrom leads Dakar prologue for Audi

Marcelo Maragni/Red Bull Content Pool

Ekstrom leads Dakar prologue for Audi

Off Road

Ekstrom leads Dakar prologue for Audi

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Mattias Ekstrom and his Audi RS Q e-tron E2 led the way as the Sea Camp at Yanbu woke early to the sounds of revving motors as the end of the year marked the beginning of the 2023 Dakar Rally. Before the 5,000 kilometers/3,100 miles to be raced over 14 long, desert days came the Prologue Stage. A short, sharp 13km/8.1-mile track on the shores of the Red Sea would determine the starting positions for tomorrow’s much more meaty 368km/229-mile timed special stage.

A total of 603 Dakar Rally competitors, racing 355 vehicles crossed the Start Podium before clearing the Prologue Stage — mostly in less than 10 minutes. With that the 45th edition of the Dakar was underway and had posted its first times. Let’s find out which contenders have put themselves in pole position following the rally’s curtain raiser.

Two-time DTM championship winner Ekstrom and his co-driver Emil Bergkvist set the day’s fastest time across all categories (8 minutes) to claim an early lead of the T1 car class standings.

“It’s always nice to start in a good way, but of course the day is long and the rally is even longer. A good end to 2022, but tomorrow is the real start,” said Ekstrom.

As well as taking the stage win, Team Audi Sport also had the race crew of Stephane Peterhansel/Edouard Boulanger in third plus Carlos Sainz/Lucas Cruz clocked the sixth-fastest time in the car race. It’s a promising debut from the three Audi RS Q e-tron E2 cars.

Nine-time Worl Rally champion Sebastien Loeb finished just one second behind Ekstrom. The BRX driver, alongside co-driver Fabian Lurquin, is pursuing his first-ever overall Dakar win after three previous podium finishes.

“It was a good stage for me and I tried to push hard. It was a fast stage, like something from WRC,” said Loeb.

Defending Dakar champion Nasser Al-Attiyah was also well on the pace as he missed out on the day’s podium by just one second. Al-Attiyah, co-driver Mathieu Baumel and their Toyota Hilux T1+ did enough to remind everyone that they will not give up their title without a fight in the desert.

“We’re very happy to get the rally started after such a long time preparing ourselves for this.” noted Al-Attiyah.

In T3, the Sea Camp at Yanbu was witness to some Dakar history today, thanks to a competitor who is making a habit of rewriting the record books. In January 2021, Cristina Gutierrez became the first woman to win a stage at the Dakar Rally since Jutta Kleinschmidt in 2005. On today’s Prologue Stage, Gutierrez once again set the fastest time as she looks to improve on third place overall in the T3 race at the previous Dakar.

“I’m feeling really happy with the car and team, the mentality is really positive. Today is only the start and we have 14 long stages ahead of us.” she said.

Gutierrez and co-driver Pablo Moreno’s fellow Red Bull Can-Am Factory Team members also enjoyed success in Yanbu. Reigning T3 champions Chaleco Lopez/Juan Pablo Latrach finished seventh on the prologue while Rokas Baciuska/Oriol Vidal won the first day of racing in the T4 contest.

Seth Quintero and co-driver Dennis Zenz led home their colleagues in the Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team USA presented by BFGoodrich as they put their Can-Am second on the Prologue Stage behind Gutierrez. Mitch Guthrie/Kellon Walch guided their T3-M by MCE5 vehicle to fourth place on its Dakar debut. Meanwhile, AJ Jones/Gustavo Gugelmin had to settle for the day’s 12th fastest T3 time as they felt their way into the rally.

“We ran at a conservative pace and it’s good to know that the car has got plenty more to give,” related Jones.

On two wheels, there was a reminder from a two-time Dakar champion that he still has plenty more to offer at the rally. Toby Price won the last Dakar held in South America, but his best result since the rally relocated to Saudi Arabia is third. A win on today’s Prologue Stage shows the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing biker is going all out this time to taste victory in the Middle East.

“The race wasn’t there to be won today, but you could have thrown it away. We’re happy with the day. I’m feeling good and the bike’s feeling good,” Price said.

Second fastest today was another Australian biker, Daniel Sanders of Red Bull GASGAS Factory Racing. Sanders was joined in the top 10 by GASGAS team-mate and defending Dakar champion Sam Sunderland.

“There was a little bit of nervous energy floating about this morning so it’s good to get that out of the way. It’s good to get the first kilometers done,” said Sunderland.

Also placing in the top 10 bikes were Kevin Benavides and Matthias Walkner of Red Bull KTM Factory Racing. These bikers will have the privilege of selecting favorable starting positions for tomorrow’s Stage One.

New Year’s Day in Yanbu will feature 368km against the clock on a loop which starts and finishes at the Dakar’s Sea Camp. The route will alternate between sandy, stony and gravel tracks before a section of dunes turns up the heat at the conclusion of the stage.

Selected Results

T1 Car Class1. Mattias Ekstrom (SWE) AUDI 8:00
2. Sebastien Loeb (FRA) BRX +0:01
3. Stephane Peterhansel (FRA) AUDI +0:11
4. Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT) TOYOTA +0:12
6. Carlos Sainz (ESP) AUDI +0:14
8. Kuba Przygonski (POL) MINI +0:16
11. Lucas Moraes (BRA) TOYOTA + 00:22
13. Giniel De Villiers (ZAF) TOYOTA + 00:25
27. Laia Sanz (ESP) ASTARA + 00:49T3 Lightweight Prototype1. Cristina Gutierrez (ESP) CAN-AM 8:49
2. Seth Quintero (USA) CAN-AM +0:02
3. Guillaume De Mevius (BEL) OT3 +0:04
4. Mitch Guthrie (USA) MCE5 +0:06
7. Chaleco Lopez (CHL) CAN-AM +0:15
12. AJ Jones (USA) CAN-AM +0:22
13. Ignacio Casale (CHL) YAMAHA +0:22

T4 SSV1. Rokas Baciuska (LTU) CAN-AM 09:06
2. Cristiano Batista (BRA) CAN-AM +00:02
3. Gerard Farres (ESP) CAN-AM + 00:07BIKES1. Toby Price (AUS) KTM 08:22
2. Daniel Sanders (AUS) GASGAS + 00:01
3. Ross Branch (BWA) HERO + 00:09
5. Kevin Benavides (ARG) KTM + 00:09
7. Matthias Walkner (AUT) KTM + 00:11
10. Sam Sunderland (GBR) GASGAS + 00:13
14. Stefan Svitko (SVK) KTM + 00:19
35. Camille Chapeliere (FRA) HUSQVARNA + 00:36
99. Mohammed Balooshi (ARE) HUSQVARNA + 01:35

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