The tone has been set for the 2024 Dakar, stage 1 AlUla to Al Henakiyah has been run and the biggest story of the stage came from Mason Klein who finished in the top 10 of the prologue after being unsure if he’d even get a start due to his bike being held up at customs in Dubai.
The 22-year-old privateer chose to start first, a position typically avoided by the Rally GP riders that would usually have gone to Skyler Howes, the worst performer in the opening romp. “The idea of opening the first stage at the Dakar is really cool so, in the end, no regrets because now I can say I’ve done it.”
Klein again showed that he is a box full of surprises, not just because he spent the 400 km long hard slog alone at the front, picking up 6′21″ in bonuses and third place at the finish, but also because he did it on a motorbike that he had barely even touched before: “This is my third time on the bike now and I couldn’t be happier.”
Today, Klein proved two things to himself and the rest of the field. First, that China has what it takes to become a rally-raid superpower in the near future. And second, that the word “impossible” is just a challenge to the 22-year-old American.
Staying Upright the Golden Rule on Two Wheels
The golden rule of any motorbike race is to stay upright, a rule which would be broken at the 82km mark by Joaquim Rodrigues and the 240km mark by Tosha Schareina who ended up with a fractured arm.
Botswanan airline pilot turned rally-rai racer Ross Branch made it to the end of the stage with the fastest time and scooped up his fourth career Dakar stage win. Branch now holds a 12-minute margin over the 2020 Dakar champion, Ricky Brabec, and Mason Klein, spending entire stage alone at the front.
In the quad race, Marcelo Madeiros overtook all his rivals, including Alexandre Giroud, who will now be in an unfamiliar position of having to claw back time after losing more than half an hour due to a mechanical issue.
Just like Ross Branch, Guillaume de Mevius also stretched his wheels on the road to Al Kenakiyah opening up a 1’44” lead ahead of Carlos Sainz in a stage that saw the favourites scattered across the landscape.
Punctures cost Nasser Al Attiyah 25 minutes, Sébastien Loeb 23 minutes, while Guerlain Chicherit limped home with a 22-minute loss. It was also a bad day at the office for Stéphane Peterhansel (32 minutes down). On the other side of the coin, the outsiders who started from afar got the best results, with Giniel de Villiers finishing third at 9′18″, Vaidotas Žala fourth at 10′42″, Romain Dumas fifth at 12′18″ and Lucas Moraes sixth at 13′25″, for a total of six Toyotas in the top 8.
“Slaloming among stones at 30 km/h our idea of fun. We knew it wouldn’t be a great stage in terms of driving, but we had to do it. We overcame it, but not without problems. We had a flat tyre once and we also had to change a tong link. All that cost us a quarter of an hour, but we’re here… It was hell, we were just hoping to avoid any more punctures. We made it, that’s all that matters now.” Sébastien Loeb
In the Challenger race, the family trio of Goczals managed to avoid the volcanic panic with Eryk seizing a total lead of 19 seconds over his uncle Mihal and 7’38” over his father Marek. As in the quad race, Brazilian samba filled the air in the SSV special, as Rodrigo Varela, the son of the 2018 champion Reinaldo Varela, took the win. Finally, Janus van Kasteren picked up right where he left off in the truck category.
MISSION 1000 UPDATE
Having only missed one Dakar since 1992, Jordi Juvanteny has secured himself as a true diehard of the Dakar Truck Race with his 32nd start and while you may think that someone with such a long history would be stuck in their ways, Juvanteny has established himself as a standard-bearer for the future of truck racing running a 12-tonne juggernaut powered by a mixed hydrogen-diesel power plant.
This technology is confidently rising to the challenge of Mission 1000: “These last two days have been fantastic. We decided to move on from diesel because it’s the right thing to do. Everyone needs to do their bit to heal the planet. Yesterday’s prologue was fabulous. The hydrogen engine worked like a charm on a striking variety of terrains, delivering an unusual level of power with no pollution at all. Today’s stage pushed us to the limit and once again, our main source of power showed what it was capable of without polluting. Where we used to have black fumes, now we see white steam”.