Dakar Rally 2023, Prologue: Mattias Ekstrom leads Audi charge; Seth Quintero second in T3

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Former DTM champion Mattias Ekstrom led a solid prologue for Audi, which took three of the top six positions in the prologue of the 2023 Dakar Rally.

Ekstrom finished the 8-mile opening time trial in 8 minutes, 1 second ahead of rally legend Sebastien Loeb’s Bahrain Raid Xtreme Hunter.

“It’s always nice to start in a good way, but, of course, the day is long and the rally is even longer,” said Ekstrom, who finished ninth with a stage victory last year in his Dakar Rally debut. “A good end to 2022, but tomorrow is the real start. We’ll have to try and be focused for another two weeks.

“I think it’s really good for me, a junior in the sport, to start from the back so I have some tracks to follow. Everything was okay, the mechanics and engineers did a good job… Now we can celebrate New Year and charge batteries for tomorrow.”

Stephane Peterhansel finished third in his Team Audi RS Q-Etron E2, 11 seconds off Ekstrom’s pace. Defending Dakar Rally champion Nasser Al-Attiyah was 12 seconds behind in fourth with his Gazoo Racing Toyota.

“Finishing behind the trio is not a bad result from the perspective of fighting for the stage win tomorrow, which would come in handy to open stage 2 right before the key third stage,” said Al-Attiyah, a four-time Dakar overall winner.

Three-time Dakar Rally winner Carlos Sainz was 14 seconds behind in sixth for Team Audi, which made its Dakar debut last year with a hybrid electrical engine.

It was a much better start than the 2022 Dakar Rally for Audi, which struggled with technical and mechanical problems the first week. Last year, it took until Stage 8 for Audi’s first victory (also with Ekstrom).

HOW TO WATCH: Dakar Rally 2023 schedule on NBC Sports’ Peacock

“The race is on,” said Peterhansel, known as “Mr. Dakar” with 14 championships (six on a bike, eight in a car). “You put your helmet on at the start, and you know you are about to be launched into the thick of it. (Team Audi) finished first, third and sixth. Personally, I did better than I expected. The course was more favorable to pure rally or rally-cross drivers, which I’m not, so it was a good result. I’m not used to coming up with strategies, but I’ll be in a good position to pick my starting order for tomorrow.”

Sainz complained last year the Audi RS Q e-tron was underpowered because of FIA regulations, and the Spaniard has been unhappy again this year with new weight regulations that make the car heavier than its internal combustion competitors.

In the bikes division, Toby Price won the prologue. A contingent of a dozen Americans was led by 2020 champion Ricky Brabec in 11th.

In the T3 light prototype category, Seth Quintero finished second and nearly picked up where he left off last year (when he won a record 12 stages and 10 consecutive).

“It was an awesome day today and we got in some quick kilometers,” Quintero, 20, said. “I was looking for the top 5 today before a big day tomorrow. When we get going tomorrow I’m going to see where my pace is compared to the other guys in the pack and then take it from there.”

NBC Sports’ daily 6:30 p.m. ET coverage on Peacock of the 2023 Dakar Rally will begin Jan. 1.

NEXT: The 2023 Dakar Rally will begin in earnest Monday with a loop stage around Sea Camp covering 603 kilometers (including 368 km against the clock in the special). It’s the first of 14 stages that will cross more than 5,000 km.

Here are the top three in each category after the prologue:


Car

1. Mattias Ekstrom (SWE), Team Audi Sport, 8:00; 2. Sebastien Loeb (FRA), Bahrain Raid Extreme, 8:01; 3. Stephane Peterhansel (FRA), Team Audi Sport, 8:11.

Bike

1. Toby Price (AUS), Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, 8:22; 2. Daniel Sanders (AUS), Red Bull GasGas Factory Racing, 8:23; 3. Ross Branch (BWA) 8:31. U.S. notables: 10. Ricky Brabec, Monster Energy Honda, 8:36; 18. Mason Klein, BAS world KTM, 8:42; 39. Skyler Howes, Husqvarna Factory Racing, 9:01; 46. Jacob Argubright, Duust Co Rally Team, 9:07; 56. Pablo Copetti, Del Amo Motorsports, 9:18; 74. Paul Neff, American Rally Originals, 9:27; 103. Petr Vlcek, Detyens Racing, 10:01; 104. Lawrence Ace Nilson, Duust Rally Team, 10:01; 105. David Pearson, American Rally Originals, 10:02; 119. Kyle McCoy, American Rally Originals, 10:19; 133. James Pearson, American Rally Originals, 11:01; 135. Morrison Hart, American Rally Originals, 11:02.

Quad

1. Alexandre Giroud (FRA), Yamaha Racing, 8:50; 2. Marcelo Medeiros (BRA), Taguatur Racing, 8:51; 3. Daniel Vila Vaques (ESP) 9:02. U.S. notable: 15. Pablo Copetti, Del Amo Motorsports, 9:18.

T3 Light prototype

1. Cristina Guiterrez Herrero (ESP), Red Bull Can-Am Factory Racing, 8:49; 2. Seth Quintero (USA), Red Bull Off-Road Junior team, 8:51; 3. Guillaume De Mevius (BEL), Grally Team, 8:53. U.S. notables: 4. Mitch Guthrie, Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team, 8:55; 12. Austin “A.J.” Jones, Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team, 9:11;

T4 SSV

1. Rokas Baciuska (LTU), Red Bull Can-Am Factory Racing, 9:06; 2. Cristiano Batista (BRA), South Racing Can-Am, 9:08; 3. Gerard Farres Guell (ESP), Can-Am Factory South Racing, 9:14.

Truck

1. Martin Macik (CZE), MM Technology Team, 9:43; 2. Mitchel Van Den Brink (NLD), Eurol Team De Rooy, 9:48; 3. Janus Van Kasteren (NLD), Boss Machinery Team De Rooy, 9:49.

Dylan Ferrandis in concussion protocol after Houston; uncertain for Tampa Supercross

Ferrandis Houston accident
Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media
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After suffering a frightening accident at Houston in the Monster Energy Supercross race, Dylan Ferrandis said he is OK but will be on concussion protocol, and his status for Tampa this week is not yet determined.

Two laps into last week’s Main, Ferrandis was engaged in a battle with Ken Roczen for eighth place. Ferrandis landed on the back Roczen’s bike and was thrown, landing headfirst on the track. Ferrandis momentarily lost consciousness and the race was red flagged so he could be attended to by the Alpinestars medical team.

“I’m okay after my crash in the main event. I hit my head first and got knock[ed] out for some minutes,” Ferrandis posted in an Instagram story. “Everything else is fine and I am okay now fortunately. Will follow the concussion protocol and will see when I can ride again.”

Ferrandis regained consciousness, the medical crew fitted Ferrandis with a neck brace and he was able to stand and walk to the cart under his own power. Ferrandis was sitting up when he left the track with a member of the crew stabilizing his neck.

“It was an awesome ride [for Eli] and a good way to come back from last weekend,” said Jeremy Coker, Team Manager for Star Racing Yamaha at RacerXOnline.com. “It was also the lowest of lows. Unfortunately, it’s part of the sport, but to see one of your guys crash the way Dylan did and to see him lying there was pretty tough. Fortunately, when I got to him, he was able to open his eyes and looked at me and said my name, and it was a huge relief to see him stand up and walk away.”

Ferrandis was off to a strong start in 2023 with a worst finish of sixth at San Diego in the first three races. He entered Houston sixth in the standings, one point behind Jason Anderson.

Ferrandis’ teammate Eli Tomac went on to win the race.

Also riding for Star Racing Yamaha and making his 450cc Supercross debut, Justin Cooper advanced from 13th at the end of Lap 1 to finish seventh.