Taking advantage of penalties to multiple competitors, Ricky Brabec won Stage 1 of the 2023 Dakar Rally to take the overall lead in the bikes category.
The Southern California native clocked a time of 4 hours, 14 minutes, 10 seconds aboard his No. 2 Monster Energy Honda CRF 450 Rally, beating Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Kevin Benavides of Argentina (4:14:29).
Daniel Sanders (fifth, 4:15:55) and Pablo Quintanilla (seventh, 4:16:17) initially finished ahead of Brabec, but each rider received 2-minute speeding penalties that knocked them off the podium.
“Yeah, we’re doing great,” Brabec said in an interview after the win. “We survived the first day. That was goal No. 2. Goal No. 1 was to get through the prologue not opening the day. I think we’re off to a good start for the rally. I’m happy. I had a good prologue, first day. Hoping to carry this into tomorrow and the next 13 days.
“I feel quite well and confident after today, but I will just try to go day by day, keep pace and stay in the top 10. It’s going to be hard to be out of the lead — like we saw today — but we have to see how it goes until the rest day. Today was fairly simple. No stress. It was a great day!
It’s the first stage win in two years for Brabec, who became the first American champion of the Dakar Rally in 2020. He won three stages and the prologue while finishing second in 2021.
HOW TO WATCH: Dakar Rally 2023 schedule on NBC Sports’ Peacock
“Today we encountered almost all of it,” Brabec posted on Instagram. “Sand, rocks, dunes, summits, animals, locals. It was great. Let’s push on for a new day.”
Heading into a critical second stage that will feature a special stage of closed tracks for 430 km that put a premium on handling, Brabec leads Benavides by 19 seconds. Australian Toby Price is third, 39 seconds behind. Joan Barreda Bort, who also suffered a speeding penalty, is fourth overall.
Californian Mason Klein of BAS world KTM finished sixth (4:14:49). Klein, who is making his second Dakar start after finishing ninth as a rookie, is 1 minute, 14 seconds behind Brabec.
“The navigation was super good,” said Klein, who rode cautiously after exceeding speed limits early in the stage. “I really enjoy this kind of riding. This is like what I have back home. … It was super good, and at least I know I can definitely win a stage in the future.”
Defending bikes winner Sam Sunderland, a two-time Dakar Rally winner, withdrew after crashing 52 kilometers into the special. Though conscious and fully mobile, the Brit was flown to Yanbu Hospital for further testing because of back pain.
🏍🚗 After their Stage 1 wins it is Ricky Brabec and Carlos Sainz who lead the Bikes and Cars General Rankings ⚡️
— DAKAR RALLY (@dakar) January 1, 2023
In the cars category, Carlos Sainz kept Team Audi Sport at the front, taking the overall lead with a stage victory by 10 seconds over Sebastien Loeb. Sainz, a three-time Dakar winner, also leads the overall by 10 seconds over Loeb.
“Everything went smoothly except for a puncture near the start of the special, which also meant I was extra cautious the rest of the stage,” said Sainz, whose son, winning F1 Ferrari driver Carlos Jr., was on hand to watch the victory while following partly from a helicopter. “From then on, we had no problems, and the car worked like a charm. We’ll see what approach we take tomorrow.”
— Red Bull Motorsports (@redbullmotors) January 1, 2023
Prologue winner Mattias Ekstrom fell to 13th overall (15 minutes, 33 seconds off the lead) after fading from the lead to a 15th-place finish late in Stage 2.
In the T3 light prototype category, American Seth Quintero finished third in Stage 1, just 5 seconds ahead of Red Bull Off-Road Junior teammate Austin “A.J.” Jones.
“I think this year is a new Seth,” Quintero said. “I think we saw a very different and hungry Seth last year. All the stage wins were a lot of fun. Now I’ve kind of taken a step back to just try to be there at the finish line every day.”
NBC Sports’ daily 6:30 p.m. ET coverage on Peacock of the 2023 Dakar Rally will begin tonight.
NEXT: Stage 2 of the 2023 Dakar Rally will cover 590 kilometers (including 431 km against the clock in the special) from Sea Camp to AlUla. Navigating the dunes will be critical.
Here are the stage winners, the top three in each category and American notables after Stage 1:
Stage 1 winner: Carlos Sainz (ESP), Team Audi Sport, 3:28:55.
1. Carlos Sainz (ESP), Team Audi Sport, 3:28:55; 2. Sebastien Loeb (FRA), Bahrain Raid Extreme, 3:29:05; 3. Yazeed Al Rajhi (SAU), Overdrive Racing, 3:30:56.
Stage 1 winner: Ricky Brabec (USA), Monster Energy Honda, 4:14:10.
1. Ricky Brabec (USA), Monster Energy Honda, 4:14:10; 2. Kevin Benavides (ARG), Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, 4:14:29; 3. Toby Price (AUS), Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, 4:14:49. U.S. notables: 6. Mason Klein, BAS world KTM, 4:15:24; 9. Skyler Howes, Husqvarna Factory Racing, 4:19:22; 32. Jacob Argubright, Duust Co Rally Team, 4:44:34; 55. Pablo Copetti, Del Amo Motorsports, 5:09:35; 80. Kyle McCoy, American Rally Originals, 5:36:16; 85. David Pearson, American Rally Originals, 5:40:52; 87. Petr Vlcek, Detyens Racing, 5:43:41; 99. Paul Neff, American Rally Originals, 5:53:22; 116. Lawrence Ace Nilson, Duust Rally Team, 6:21:37; 118. James Pearson, American Rally Originals, 6:22:32; 132. Morrison Hart, American Rally Originals, 7:40:42.
Stage 1 winner: Alexandre Giroud (FRA), Yamaha Racing, 4:55:28.
1. Alexandre Giroud (FRA), Yamaha Racing, 4:55:28; 2. Manuel Andujar (ARG), 7240 Team, 4:55:49; 3. Marcelo Medeiros (BRA), Taguatur Racing Team, 5:08:20. U.S. notable: 15. Pablo Copetti, Del Amo Motorsports, 5:09:35.
T3 Light prototype
Stage 1 winner: Francisco Lopez Contardo (CHL), Red Bull Can-Am Factory Team, 3:57:40.
1. Francisco Lopez Contardo (CHL), Red Bull Can-Am Factory Team, 3:57:40; 2. 3. Guillaume De Mevius (BEL), Grally Team, 3:59:29; 3. Seth Quintero (USA), Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team, 4:00:47. U.S. notables: 4. Austin “A.J.” Jones, Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team, 4:01:12; 6. Mitch Guthrie, Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team, 4:08:57.
Stage 1 winner: Eryk Goczal (POL), Energylandia Rally Team, 4:11:58.
1. Eryk Goczal (POL), Energylandia Rally Team, 4:11:58; 2. Pau Navarro (ESP), FN Speed Team, 4:13:29; 3. Michal Goczal (POL), Energylandia Rally Team, 4:13:49.
Stage 1 winner: Martin Macik (CZE), MM Technology Team, 3:57:18.
1. Martin Macik (CZE), MM Technology Team, 9:43; 2. Ales Loprais (CZE), Instaforex Loprais Praga 4:02:19; 3. Mitchel Van Den Brink (NLD), Eurol Team De Rooy, 4:06:36.
PROLOGUE: Mattias Ekstrom leads Audi charge
CARRYING THE FLAG: U.S. drivers and riders in the 2023 Dakar Rally