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Entering the rest day for the 2023 Dakar Rally, American riders Skyler Howes and Mason Klein remained strong contenders for the bike championship after Stage 8.
Klein finished third in the 345-kilometer special and would have taken the overall lead if not for a 2-minute speeding penalty. Instead, he is tied with Kevin Benavides — both KTM riders are 13 seconds behind the overall leader from St. George, Utah.
With six stages remaining, Howes clung to first in the rankings for the fourth consecutive day. The Husqvarna Factory Racing driver finished 20th on his 450 Rally Factory bike in Stage 8, losing several minutes to Benavides and Klein.
Howes had entered the stage leading by 3 minutes, 31 seconds over two-time Dakar Rally champion Toby Price, who fell to fourth overall by finishing 17th in Stage 8.
Ross Branch won the stage over Daniel Sanders and Klein, the Southern California native making only his second start in the Dakar Rally.
“I was doing my best today, and I really wanted to win this stage,” Klein, 21, said. “Unfortunately, Ross just beat me. Pretty sad. I think I’m leading the overall, which makes me pretty happy going into the rest day. It was a really good day.
“I didn’t expect (to be at this level), but I really wanted it. I had a big crash in the dunes, not a big one, but it could have been really bad. I was doing a handstand for a really long time, and I landed with both legs on the left side of the bike, I used the front brake, and I had to drop the bike and crash on purpose to not go off the edge of the dune. It was pretty scary. I had to (relieve myself) twice today. I blame that for why I lost.”
Klein and Howes each are bidding to become the second U.S. bike champion in the 45-year history of the Dakar Rally.
Ricky Brabec won the bike category in 2020, becoming the first American champion in Dakar history.
In the car category, Sebastien Loeb won the stage by 2 minutes 11 seconds over Nasser Al-Attiyah, who maintained his stranglehold on the overall lead.
“It was a good stage, a clean stage this time,” Loeb said. “Just one puncture. We had to change one wheel, but the rest was OK. We tried to make it a big one. It was good navigation. The stage was not so easy. I’m happy to be here.”
Rebounding from an abysmal stretch of Team Audi misfortune, Carlos Sainz finished third (and would have won the stage if not for a 5-minute speeding penalty assessed to his RS Q e-tron E2).
“We had a good stage, a clean stage,” Sainz said. ” Finally, we got to enjoy ourselves a little bit and get a clear run. Starting so far behind, we had no dust, thanks to the rain.
“I liked it much better before in the Dakar. When a priority driver got a problem, you were immediately put in the top 15. I think it’s not good for us, not good for the others. I’m very disappointed at all the problems we got. The whole team was not very lucky. I think we’ve been unlucky, but we’ll keep attacking and enjoying the race.”
DAKAR CONTROVERSY: Audi electric hybrids given power boost
In the hunt for his fifth Dakar Rally title, defending car champion Al-Attiyah leads by 1 hour, 3 minutes, 46 seconds over Toyota Gazoo Racing teammate Henk Lategan. Loeb is ranked fourth overall, 1:52:06 behind the leader.
“We were careful to avoid (punctures) until the final section of dunes and sandy tracks, where we were able to attack,” Al-Attiyah said. “I’m quite happy. All our hard work at the beginning of the race is paying off. Now we have to try and be in the top three every day to earn as many points as we can for the championship. Next week I’ll be home on the dunes. There’ll be plenty of dunes, but you have to be careful and take it one day at a time.”
In the T3 light prototype category, Joao Ferreira earned his first stage win, and Mitch Guthrie finished third. American Austin “A.J.” Jones was fourth, and the Red Bull Junior Off Road Team driver cut a few minutes off the margin to Guillaume De Mevius, who leads by 3 minutes, 19 seconds.
NBC Sports’ daily 6:30 p.m. ET coverage of the 2023 Dakar Rally will continue tonight on Peacock’s NBC Sports channel.
NEXT: Monday will be the rest day for the Dakar Rally before the final six stages. The event will resume Tuesday with Stage 9, a 710-kilometer route (439 against the clock in the special) from Riyadh to Haradh.
Here are the stage winners and the top three in the overall rankings for each category (along with U.S. notables) after Stage 8 of the 2023 Dakar Rally:
Stage 8 winner: Sebatien Loeb (FRA), Bahrain Raid Xtreme, 3:34:24
General rankings: 1. Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT), Toyota Gazoo Racing, 31:02:58; 2. Henk Lategan (ZAF), Toyota Gazoo Racing, 32:06:44; 3. Lucas Moraes (BRA), Overdrive Racing, 32:23:20.
Stage 8 winner: Ross Branch (BWA), Hero Motorsports Team Rally, 3:46:18
General rankings: 1. Skyler Howes (USA), Husqvarna Factory Racing, 30:34:16; 2. Kevin Benavides (ARG), Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, 30:34:29; 3. Mason Klein (USA), BAS world KTM Racing Team, 30:34:29; U.S. notables: 25. Jacob Argubright, Duust Co Rally Team, 29:52:31; 47. Pablo Copetti, Del Amo Motorsports, 39:39:16; 61. Petr Vlcek, Detyens Racing, 41:42:55; 93. Paul Neff, American Rally Originals, 57:10?27; 95. Morrison Hart, American Rally Originals, 57:34:14; 96. James Pearson, American Rally Originals, 58:06:21; 103. David Pearson, American Rally Originals, 145:36:08; 104. Lawrence Ace Nilson, Duust Rally Team, 150:06:53. Withdrawal (excluded): Kyle McCoy, American Rally Originals. Withdrew: Ricky Brabec (USA), Monster Energy Honda, 9:42:49.
Stage 8 winner: Manuel Andujar (ARG), 7240 Team, 4:56:05
General rankings: 1. Alexandre Giroud (FRA), Yamaha Racing, 37:57:04; 2. Manuel Andujar (ARG), 7240 Team, 39:38:41; 3. Pablo Copetti (USA), Del Amo Motorsports, 39:39:16.
T3 light prototype
Stage 8 winner: Joao Ferreira (PRT), X-Raid Yamaha Supported Team, 4:11:36
General rankings: 1. Guillaume De Mevius (BEL), Grally Team, 36:03:09. 2. Austin “A.J.” Jones (USA), Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team, 36:06:28. 3. Seth Quintero (USA), Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team, 37:05:34. U.S. notable: Mitch Guthrie, Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team, 60:38:12.
Stage 8 winner: Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli (ARG), South Racing Can-Am, 4:16:18
General rankings: 1. Rokas Baciuska (LTU), Red Bull Can-Am Factory Team, 37:33:31; 2. Marek Goczal (POL), Energylandia Rally Team, 37:38:05; 3. Eryk Goczal (POL), Energylandia Rally Team, 37:39:19.
Stage 8 winner: Martin Macik (CZE), MM Technology, 4:04:28
General rankings: 1. Ales Loprais (CZE), Instaforex Loprais Praga, 36:30:58; 2. Martin Van Den Brink (NLD), Eurol Team De Rooy Iveco, 36:47:15; 3. Janus Van Kastren (NLD), Boss Machinery Team De Rooy Iveco, 37:09:01.
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
STAGE 7: Americans excel in T3 light prototype
AUDI CONTROVERSY: Electric hybrids given power boost
CARRYING THE FLAG: U.S. drivers and riders in the 2023 Dakar Rally
Dakar Rally 2023, Stage 8: Skyler Howes, Mason Klein keep American riders at front originally appeared on NBCSports.com