#01 BENAVIDES LUCIANO (arg), Husqvarna Factory Racing, Husqvarna, Moto, portrait during the Prologue of the Dakar 2024 on January 5, 2024 in Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia

Dakar 2024 – Schareina and Ekström Shine During Prologue

Published: Saturday January 6 2024
The name may seem misleading, with a prologue that turned out to have an extraordinary dimension, over a distance of 27 kilometres that was a condensed version, albeit a very accessible one, of the whole range of terrains encountered on the Dakar.

Hesitations for some while others reflected the desert sun and shined bright during the 27 kilometre prologue for the 2024 Dakar which featured the whole range of terrains encountered on the Dakar.

The region of AlUla is ideal for such a sample, with sandy portions that were followed by rocky zones and even several navigational difficulties that led to several hesitations for some while Spaniard Tosha Schareina outdid all the other bikers and Sweden’s Mattias Ekström was victorious in his Audi.

Debutant is no longer an appropriate term to use for Tosha Schareina, who has twice finished in 13th place on the Dakar and won last summer on the Desafio Ruta 40, but today he began his first race as an official team rider. Honda’s management team can give themselves a pat on the back for having recruited the young Spaniard, a target for many teams, who chose the Japanese brand to move up a gear. Behind him, Daniel Sanders, whose pace enabled him to take the lead at the beginning of the Dakar in 2022, also let his speed do the talking. The day’s podium was completed by Ross Branch.

The rally’s favourites are still in the reckoning, from Adrien Van Beveren (4th), the Benavides brothers (with Luciano in 5th and Kevin in 9th), Pablo Quintanilla (7th) to Toby Price (8th), even if Skyler Howes (42nd) will have to bust a gut to remain in contact with the leaders.

Skyler Howes is having trouble getting back in the saddle. For the cowboy from Utah, one prologue resembles another. Since the Rallye du Maroc, on his official Honda bike, the American has seemed to have been riding a rodeo horse rather than a thoroughbred that would ensure continuation of the progression he commenced a year ago.

Howes got lost lost in the canyons of AlUla which left him 44th placed finish 5’10’’ behind his team-mate Schareina, Howes occupies the last position in the Rally GP class. As a result, the official HRC rider will most likely have to open the way tomorrow, which is an unenviable task for a stage announced as long, difficult and complicated to ride as a lone ranger

148 DE GAVARDO Tomas (chl), BAS Wolrd KTM Racing Team, Moto, action during the Prologue of the Dakar 2024 on January 5, 2024 in Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia // ASO Frederic Le Floch

In the car race, Mattias Ekström’s past on rally tracks provided him with the suitable steering skill to dominate his rivals and start the race in a positive manner for the Audi clan, as he did last year. Without realising, he tamed Seth Quintero who began his career in the Ultimate class with panache, achieving the second-best time of the day, even though they will not be taken into account for the general rankings. The young American went all out to gain the opportunity of choosing an advantageous starting position tomorrow morning, as did Sébastien Loeb (3th).

Brazilian brothers Marcos and Cristian Baumgart made a notable start to this Dakar with the 4th and 5th best times, but title holder Nasser Al Attiyah paid for a small navigation mistake, which may actually work out well for him. With the 12th best time, he will start tomorrow in 12th place, which is a much better situation than if he had finished in 10th place, most probably obliged to open the way on stage 1. A similar mishap was suffered by Guerlain Chicherit, with just as fortunate an outcome, because the Frenchman finished in 11th place.

“It was a real prologue. We haven’t seen many like that before, a genuine mini-special with navigation, difficulties and danger. In fact, we got a bit caught up in the dust of the car in front and went left in a canyon before we had to do an about turn. On a stage like that, it’s a costly mistake, but that’s motorsport and it’s not too serious. We’ve had a nice warm-up and are feeling good”. Guerlain Chicherit

The first Challenger is not much further down the rankings, because the 13th best time of the day was achieved by Eryk Goczał, whose capacity to start the rally well is common knowledge. The young man from Krakow wasted no time in dominating his new category with 20’’ advantage over his uncle Michal, behind the wheel of a machine making a sparkling debut on the Dakar: along with the vehicles driven by Nicolás Cavigliasso (4th) and Mitch Guthrie (5th), four Taurus featured in the day’s top 5, encircling the GRallyTeam OT3 driven by Kris Meeke (3rd).

317 FRANCO Mario (pro), JORDAO Daniel (prt), Francosport, Yamaha YXZ 1000R, FIA Challenger, FIA W2RC, action during the Prologue of the Dakar 2024 on January 5, 2024 in Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia // ASO Frederic Le Floch

Renewal is also the watchword in the SSV category, with Xavier de Soultrait, winner of a stage on a bike in Peru in 2019 (and 7th in the general rankings), continuing his successful reconversion and proving to be the quickest driver of the day. He has been entrusted by Sébastien Loeb Racing with a RZR Polaris, the brand which launched the SSV category on the Dakar, but which had not tasted victory since 2018.

De Soultrait beat the favourite João Ferreira, but the performance of the Polaris machines was underlined by the third place achieved by Florent Vayssade, a team-mate of the day’s winner. When all is said and done, the only title holder who occupies the lead in the day’s rankings is truck driver Janus van Kasteren, who was quicker than Aleš Loprais by 16’’, to kick off the battle between the Netherlands and the Czech Republic.