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With the special canceled for the bikes, American riders mostly were on the sidelines, but U.S. drivers still had a strong performance in Stage 7 of the 2023 Dakar Rally.
American Mitch Guthrie won in the T3 light prototype class, and Red Bull Off-Road Junior teammates Seth Quintero (fourth in the stage) and Austin “A.J.” Jones (sixth) cut into overall leader Guillaume de Mevius’ lead.
Through seven of 14 stages, de Mevius leads Jones (won won the T4 SSV class last year) by 8 minutes 29 seconds and Quintero by 1 hour, 2 minutes, 55 seconds.
Guthrie is more than 24 hours off the pace but continued his rebound from a disastrous Stage 5 with his second consecutive top-five finish.
“Good stage; a lot of fun and little bit of everything,” Guthrie said. “We started at the back of a pack of the top SSVs and were able to chase cars down and make some passes. In the end, we had a good battle, got by Guillaume and had Seth behind us, and all three of us were battling to the end. Overall, I’m really happy.”
Quintero finished just under 3 minutes behind Guthrie but more than 5 minutes of de Mevius, cutting into the overall margin. The Southern California native said he took it easy early in the 333-kilometer special to avoid a puncture, yielding the lead to Guthrie. With 50 kilometers remaining, Quintero caught de Mevius after the Belgian made a navigation mistake.
“It was a super fun battle,” Quintero said. “It was nice to have good navigation today, and we made up a lot of time in the overall.”
Said de Mevius: “It was a pretty tough day for us. We got caught and suffered a puncture. It was rugged terrain and I played it safe … perhaps a little too safe.”
Jones also made up 30 seconds by finishing just ahead of de Mevius. “I struggled today a little bit,” Jones said. “I had trouble in the first half and came back strong in the second half. Gustavo (Gugelmin, co-driver) did a great job nailing the navigation.”
Without being able to follow the tracks of the bikes, it was an unusual stage for the overall T1 car category. Yazeed Al Rajhi pushed to the win by posting the fastest time while starting deep in the field while some of the main contenders struggled with navigation.
“It was very difficult without motorbikes in front,” said Sebastien Loeb, who improved to fifth overall with a ninth in the stage. “It was quite tricky to find the little tracks (that were) really small. We knew it would be very difficult to keep the pace of other guys.”
Nasser Al-Attiyah maintained an overall lead of more than hour over his Toyota Gazoo Racing teammate Henk Lategan despite a 14th in the stage that was more than 19 minutes behind Al Rajhi.
“It was not easy,” said Al-Attiyah, the defending car champion aiming for his fifth title. “We opened without any tracks ahead of us, and the last part was really tricky navigation. Suddenly there were three or four cars locked in a duel. The last 20 to 30 kilometers were crazy.”
An already crazy Dakar Rally got even nuttier for Team Audi.
After teammates Carlos Sainz and Stephane Peterhansel crashed in Stage 6, Mattias Ekstrom was leading Stage 7 when forced to stop after 196 kilometers for a broken wishbone from hitting a stone.
Sainz eventually stopped by to lend his suspension for the repairs.
“Yet another bad day for us,” the three-time defending Dakar Rally champion said. “This is definitely not our lucky rally. But we’ll keep going to learn more and more. I stopped to give Mattias my suspension, and we had to wait for over three hours before our service truck arrived and helped us get back on the move.”
The Spaniard finished in 6 hours, 34 minutes, 34 seconds and now is ranked 45th, nearly 30 hours behind.
Bikers and quad riders stuck to the liaison route — an untimed 500-kilometer road section from Riyadh to Al Duwadimi. Though leader Skyler Howes was disappointed to miss a day of riding in the dirt, he appreciated the call by Dakar Rally officials after many riders arrived at the bivouac well after midnight from slogging through a cold and wet course for several hours Friday.
“As we ride here (on the highway) and look around at the scenery, I’d prefer to race, but at the same time it’s not about us,” said Howes, a native of St. George, Utah. “Maybe we arrived at a decent time and were able to recover but many people were stuck out there for many hours. It’s not always about what we want. I’d prefer to race but there also are many people who would be extremely tired wet and cold and would love a little bit of a break.
“What’s important for the organization is everyone has a tough challenge but a good experience here. And to be stuck out in the rain and cold is not fun or safe for everyone. To give us a break with a long liaison … I’d prefer to be in the dirt, but we get to ride our dirt bikes as well.”
Said Mason Klein, the American rider who is seventh overall: “I like to ride, and it’s less days to catch up time, I guess. But everything happens for a reason, and I’m happy to be here. I guess that’s all that really matters.”
NBC Sports’ daily 6:30 p.m. ET coverage of the 2023 Dakar Rally will continue tonight on Peacock’s NBC Sports channel.
NEXT: Stage 8 will be different than originally planned as Stages 7 and 8 were rearranged by race organizers because the bivouac location was impacted by rain. With the teams having returned to Al Duwadimi for Sunday’s rest, the eighth stage will be a loop, racing against the clock for 345 kilometers before teams head to the bivouac in Riyadh.
Here are the stage winners and the top three in the overall rankings for each category (along with U.S. notables) after Stage 7 of the 2023 Dakar Rally:
Stage 7 winner: Yazeed Al Rajhi (SAU), Overdrive Racing, 3:06:23.
General rankings: 1. Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT), Toyota Gazoo Racing, 27:26:23; 2. Henk Lategan (ZAF), Toyota Gazoo Racing, 28:27:27; 3. Lucas Moraes (BRA), Overdrive Racing, 28:37:47.
Stage 7 special canceled
General rankings: 1. Skyler Howes (USA), Husqvarna Factory Racing, 26:31:52; 2. Toby Price (AUS), Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, 26:35:23; 3. Kevin Benavides (ARG), Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, 26:38:53. U.S. notables: 7. Mason Klein (USA), BAS world KTM Racing Team, 26:44:38; 25. Jacob Argubright, Duust Co Rally Team, 29:52:31; 46. Pablo Copetti, Del Amo Motorsports, 34:22:37; 61. Petr Vlcek, Detyens Racing, 36:24:12; 92. James Pearson, American Rally Originals, 49:33:32; 95. Morrison Hart, American Rally Originals, 50:30:45; 101. David Pearson, American Rally Originals, 79:33:08; 103. Lawrence Ace Nilson, Duust Rally Team, 84:03:53; 109. Kyle McCoy, American Rally Originals, 121:15:00. Awaiting classification: Paul Neff, American Rally Originals; Withdrew: Ricky Brabec (USA), Monster Energy Honda, 9:42:49.
Stage 7 special canceled
General rankings: 1. Alexandre Giroud (FRA), Yamaha Racing, 32:58:54; 2. Francisco Moreno Flores (ARG), Dragon, 33:41:51; 3. Pablo Copetti (USA), Del Amo Motorsports, 34:32:37.
T3 light prototype
Stage 7 winner: Mitch Guthrie, Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team, 3:39:37.
General rankings: 1. Guillaume De Mevius (BEL), Grally Team, 31:43:12. 2. Austin “A.J.” Jones (USA), Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team, 31:51:41. 3. Seth Quintero (USA), Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team, 32:46:07. U.S. notable: Mitch Guthrie, Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team, 56:24:34.
Stage 7 winner: Rokas Baciuska (LTU), Red Bull Can-Am Factory Team, 3:45:34.
General rankings: 1. Rokas Baciuska (LTU), Red Bull Can-Am Factory Team, 33:08:46; 2. Marek Goczal (POL), Energylandia Rally Team, 33:14:28; 3. Eryk Goczal (POL), Energylandia Rally Team, 33:15:09.
Stage 7 winner: Janus Van Kastren (NLD), Boss Machinery Team De Rooy Iveco, 3:35:10.
1. Ales Loprais (CZE), Instaforex Loprais Praga, 32:22:56; 2. Martin Van Den Brink (NLD), Eurol Team De Rooy Iveco, 32:24:56; 3. Janus Van Kastren (NLD), Boss Machinery Team De Rooy Iveco, 32:45:07.
PROLOGUE: Mattias Ekstrom leads Audi charge
STAGE 1: Ricky Brabec opens with victory; Carlos Sainz keeps Audi on top
STAGE 2: Mason Klein continues U.S. surge in bikes
STAGE 3: Brabec is eliminated by crash as inclement weather shortens stage
STAGE 4: Klein, Skyler Howes overcome adversity
STAGE 5: Skyler Howes moves into overall lead in bikes
STAGE 6: Disastrous day for Audi as crashes eliminate contenders
AUDI CONTROVERSY: Electric hybrids given power boost
CARRYING THE FLAG: U.S. drivers and riders in the 2023 Dakar Rally
Dakar Rally 2023, Stage 7: Americans excel in T3 special while riders are sidelined from dirt originally appeared on NBCSports.com