Dakar Rally 2022, Stage 8: Mattias Ekstrom scores first victory on a strong day for Audi

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Stage 8 of the 2022 Dakar Rally produced another first-time winner Monday — and another class “rookie” who already had gained fame in other motorsports disciplines.

Two-time DTM champion Mattias Ekstrom drove to victory as the hybrid-powered Team Audi captured three of the top four spots in the 830-kilometer segment from Al Dawadimi to Wadi Ad Dawasir, Saudi Arabia. Teammate Stephane Peterhansel finished 49 seconds behind Ekstrom in second, and Carlos Sainz took fourth.

“We didn’t even have one detail that was not perfect, so for me it was a very good day,” Ekstrom, also a winner in the World Rally Championship and Race of Champions, said after joining MotoGP veteran Danilo Petrucci as a first-time Dakar stage winner. “For (co-driver) Emil (Bergkvist) and myself, we feel like the rookies here, learning every day and trying to manage the risk and there are so many kilometers where you can have a mistake.

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“Today, I’m happy because we didn’t do any, maybe we were too conservative, but there are still many days to go. I think the car is good. We have found a setup that I like a lot. But we have to develop the car much more. It’s still a very young car in its lifetime”.

The Audi RS Q e-tron has had mixed results in its Dakar Rally debut, starting with a poor opening stage for all three drivers amid complaints from Sainz that FIA regulations left his electric car underpowered. But the team seems to have sorted out mechanical gremlins and overcome suspension challenges and weight disadvantages.

“It wasn’t the perfect special for us, but in any case, we are up with the pace, which is not a bad thing,” said 14-time Dakar champion Peterhansel, who made a navigation mistake in the final 5 minutes that cost him the stage win.

“It’s also good to have fairly clean days without any major technical problems. Getting punctures or getting lost is normal on this rally, but the first week was very complicated, so I hope the second week will be better. In theory, we’ve sorted out the problem with the suspension, but you can never be 100% certain, even if things seem OK for the moment.”

Sebastien Loeb finished third and cut several minutes off the lead of Nasser Al-Attiyah, who was 11th in the stage. Al-Attiyah still is in first by nearly 38 minutes with four stages remaining. Loeb and Al-Attiyah both overcame tire punctures during the stage Monday.

“For 350 kilometers we had one puncture, and then we only had front-wheel drive because we broke the rear,” Al-Attiyah said. “I was really scared all the way. On the last part, I said, ‘I don’t care, on the last 50 kilometers, I will try to push a little bit.’ But it was not easy with just the front-wheel drive. I’m really lucky to be here and we only lost seven minutes to Seb.

“For the speed, we needed to go slow, but there was a small part broken inside and a lot of noise. That’s what we had to manage all the way, but we are lucky to be here. Of course, I was scared, because we have done a very good job from the beginning and now if we start to have problems … The Dakar is never finished, you know? We’ll try to respect the Dakar. The Dakar is the Dakar”.

Said Loeb, who started first after winning Stage 7: “It was not easy. We pushed really hard from the start until the end because we were opening the road, so we just wanted to stay ahead and not have Nasser following. We tried really hard from the start, but I had a puncture. We changed the wheel quickly and finally we continued like that until the neutralization point when we saw that we had lost our spare wheel and it was the only one we had left, so I was a bit careful at the end, but I think in the end I drove a good stage.”

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Swedish driver Mattias Ekstrom drove his Audi to a Stage 8 victory in the Dakar Rally (Franck Fife/AFP via Getty Images).

In the bike category, Sam Sunderland retook the overall lead, moving up from fourth with a victory in Stage 8 of the 2022 Dakar Rally.

“Looks like the race is really close this year, and it’s cool for everybody at home watching,” Sunderland said. “Difficult for us as riders, it’s a little bit like an emotional roller coaster. But with the glory of winning you have the punishment the next day to open the stage. But if you want to win the race you need to win some stages, I guess.”

In light prototype, Seth Quintero scored his sixth consecutive stage victory. The American has eight stage victories and can break the Dakar Rally record (10 by Pierre Lartigue during a 17-stage Dakar in 1994) for single-rally stage wins by winning three of the final four. Because of a Stage 2 differential failure, Quintero is more than 16 hours behind and out of overall class title contention.

“Today went great,” said Quintero, who broke a tie for Sainz for the third-most stage victories in a single Dakar. “We really feel no pressure, so we’re just out there having a good time. We knew that there was going to be a lot of sand and a lot of dunes and that’s where I feel the most comfortable, in the dunes. No mistakes, no issues all day. (Co-driver) Dennis (Zenz) did a great job and we drove it home. An awesome day. No trouble today. Yesterday was definitely a wild drive, and it was nice to kind of relax a little bit today.

“When we got to refueling, we knew we had a pretty good lead. We didn’t see anyone, so we were thinking, ‘All right, we can probably bring it home at a nice steady pace’. But of course, that wasn’t my style, so we charged the whole way back. We’re really having a good time and hoping to break that record. We’re one step closer.

NEVER GIVE UP: Seth Quintero focused on breaking Dakar Rally stage win record

“It’s mind-blowing that we can win eight out of nine Dakar stages and still not be in the match for the overall. You never know, we could make up 16 hours … we’ve made up a few hours by now, but we’ve just got to keep on having fun. It’s definitely possible to at least tie the record if not break the record.”

Here are the stage winners and the top three overall in each category after Stage 8 of the 2022 Dakar Rally:

Car

Stage 8 winner: Mattias Ekstrom (SWE) 3:43:21. Overall: 1. Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT), Toyota Gazoo Racing, 27:45:52; 2. Sebastien Loeb (FRA), Bahrain Raid Extreme, 28:23:50; 3. Yazeed Al Rajhi (SAU), Overdrive Toyota, 28:39:05.

Bike

Stage 8 winner: Sam Sunderland (GBR), 3:48:02. Overall: 1. Sam Sunderland (GBR), GasGas Factory Racing, 27:38:42; 2. Matthias Walkner (AUS), Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, 27:42:27; 3. Adrien Van Beveren (FRA), Monster Energy Yamaha Rally Team, 27:43:25. Other U.S. notables: 10. Mason Klein, BAS Dakar KTM Racing Team, 28:14:08; 11. Andrew Short, Monster Energy Yamaha Rally Team, 28:15:36; 13. Ricky Brabec, Monster Energy Honda, 28:18:40. Withdrew: Skyler Howes, Husqvarna Factory Racing.

Truck

Stage 8 winner: Dmitry Sotnikov (RAF), 3:56:42. Overall: 1. Dmitry Sotnikov (RAF), Kamaz-Master 30:02:36; 2. Eduard Nikolaev (RAF), Kamaz-Master, 30:14:01; 3. Anton Shibalov (RAF), Kamaz-Master, 30:42:59.

Light prototype

Stage 8 winner: Seth Quintero (USA), 4:17:14. Overall: 1. Francisco Lopez Contardo (CHL), EKS — South Racing, 32:51:39; 2. Sebastian Eriksson (SWE), EKS — South Racing, 34:10:40; 3. Fernando Alvarez (ESP), South Racing Can-Am, 35:47:09. Notable: 8. Seth Quintero (USA), Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team USA, 48:30:18.

SSV

Stage 8 winner: Marek Goczal (POL), 4:36:14. Overall: 1. Austin Jones (USA), Can-Am Factory South Racing, 34:12:38; 2. Gerard Farres Guell (ESP), Can-Am Factory South Racing, 34:19:16; 3. Michal Goczal (POL), Cobant-Energylandia Rally Team, 34:27:27.

Quad

Stage 8 winner: Alexandre Giroud (FRA), 5:02:08. Overall: 1. Alexandre Giroud (FRA), Yamaha Racing – SMX -Drag’on, 34:41:02; 2. Pablo Copetti (USA), Del Amo Motorsports/Yamaha Rally Team, 35:11:49; 3. Kamil Wisniewski (POL), Orlen Team, 36:53:13.


PAST RECAPS

DAY 1: Nasser Al-Attiyah takes overall lead as Audi drivers struggle

DAY 2: Sebastien Loeb wins; Austin Jones takes SSV lead

DAY 3: Led by Seth Quintero’s rebound victory, U.S. drivers and riders shine

DAY 4: Overall leader Nasser Al-Attiyah wins stage after penalty

DAY 5: Petrucci becomes first MotoGP veteran to win bike stage at Dakar

DAY 6: Quintero continues impressive win streak in lightweight prototype

DAY 7: Loeb wins in overall; Jones retakes SSV lead

Ken Roczen signs with HEP Progressive Ecstar Suzuki for 2023

Roczen Progressive Ecstar Suzuki
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ANAHEIM, California – Ken Roczen will make the move from HRC Honda to H.E.P. Motorsports with the Progressive Ecstar Suzuki team, ending a long and eventful offseason that saw his split from his longstanding team after he committed to running World Supercross (WSX).

“H.E.P. Motorsports is thrilled to announce that the team has signed Ken Roczen as its premier rider for the 2023 season,” the team announced on Instagram. “Former AMA Motocross champion Roczen will be aboard a Suzuki RM-Z450. Roczen, who won his most recent championship on a Suzuki, will be reunited with the brand and bring his exciting style, determination, and grit back to the RM Army.

“Ken Roczen will compete in the upcoming 2023 Supercross and Motocross Championship series which is set to start on January 7 at Anaheim Stadium in Southern California.”

For Roczen, it is a return to the bike of his youth and on which he had some of his greatest professional success.

“This thing has been going on for weeks and weeks and weeks in the making, but there was so much uncertainty,” Roczen told NBC Sports during Monster Energy Supercross Media Sessions. “It was a very unique situation. I just finally signed two nights ago, so it’s really only legit once the ink hits the paper. It’s been in the works for a long time, but there were just a lot of questions and a lot of input from a lot of other teams too.

“Good things take time, and I’m okay with that. I grew up riding Suzuki. Ot’s like a homecoming. It’s a special feeling”

Roczen won the 2016 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship on a Suzuki before making the move to Honda. That year he won nine of 12 Nationals and finished no worse than second as he easily outpaced Eli Tomac by 86 points. He finished third in his next Pro Motocross outing in 2018 after sitting out the outdoor season in 2017.

“I am beyond excited to reconnect with Suzuki for the 3rd time in my career. We’ve had a lot of success in the past and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish together in our future.” Roczen said in the Instagram post.