Dakar Rally 2023, Stage 3: Ricky Brabec withdraws after being injured in crash

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Stage 3 of the 2023 Dakar Rally took an early toll on championship contenders in the premier cars and bikes categories.

Ricky Brabec, the first American to win the Dakar Rally in 2020, withdrew from the event after crashing at the 274th of 447 kilometers in the special. After being attended to by the event medical team, Dakar Rally officials reported that Brabec was transported to the hospital because of neck pain.

In a release, Honda Racing said the medical staff at the Ha’Il hospital confirmed Brabec was in good condition with no fractures. He will remain under observation for another 24 hours as a precaution.

It was a disappointing ending for the Monster Energy Honda CRF 450 Rally rider, who had led after winning Stage 1 and had solid showings in the prologue and Stage 2.

The Southern California native, who also finished second in the 2021 event, became the second past Dakar Rally bikes champion to withdraw because of a crash. Defending champion Sam Sunderland, a two-time Dakar winner, withdrew in Stage 1 after crashing 52 kilometers into the special. Sunderland also was airlifted to a hospital and was diagnosed with a broken shoulder blade and concussion.

Brabec’s exit put a damper on a strong start for American riders, who held three of the top seven overall positions through the first three days.

Mason Klein, who had taken the overall lead with a Stage 2 win, and Skyler Howes remained in strong contention with podium finishes Tuesday behind Stage 3 winner Daniel Sanders.

Klein, 21, finished second in the stage and holds a 1-minute, 48-second lead over Sanders.

“I got off to a pretty good start and felt really motivated to give it a lot of gas today,” said Klein, who is making only his second Dakar Rally start. “Really happy I made it in without getting passed. Super awesome day.

“It was really good to open. I enjoyed every second of it. It’s so nice making all your own decisions. I don’t know if I’ve ever navigated any better. I love opening. I feel I make less mistakes.”

Howes was thrilled to move into third overall with a third-place stage finish.

“Honestly, this is probably one of the best days, the most fun days I’ve ever had on a motorcycle,” Howes said. “I can’t even describe how incredible the mountains and the track we went on today was easily the best time I’ve had a on dirt bike. It was so much fun. The dirt has been wet all day.

“You go through these giant canyons, the clouds are real low, and the size of the mountains are so insane. This place is so beautiful. It’s one of my favorite stages and favorite day on a motorcycle by far. So much fun.”

Howes praised the performance of Klein while also lamenting the misfortune for Brabec.

“Mason definitely proved himself to be a Rally GP rider today,” Howes said. “He did an incredible job opening the stage. He opened from start to finish. I wanted to take something off his shoulders and open some of the stage, but I messed up and he got the task of opening the whole stage. He rarely made a mistake and did a really good job, so I’m super proud of the kid.

“It’s really tough for Ricky. This race has already proven itself to be a real challenge. It’s super unfortunate for him, but I hear that he’s OK, which is the most important part. It’s always tough to have a crash. You never want to see anyone go out like that. I’m glad that he’s OK, but, man, it really sucks.”

The top two contenders in cars entering Stage 3 also faced challenges Tuesday. Three-time Dakar champion Carlos Sainz endured a setback that sidelined his Audi for 30 minutes, and Stage 2 winner (and defending Dakar Rally champion) Nasser Al-Attiyah also struggled and lost time on a treacherous course.

With a 13th-place finish, Al-Attiyah still managed to take the overall lead by more than 13 minutes. Sainz finished 43rd in the stage and lost more than an hour, falling from the overall lead to eighth.

Dakar Rally officials halted bike riders at Checkpoint 2 (after 335 km) and Checkpoint 3 (after 377 km) because “the degradation in weather conditions has made it no longer possible for the organizers to guarantee the best safety conditions for the competitors.”

According to the Dakar Rally website, times will be maintained for the riders who have reached the finishing line. For those yet to finish, calculations would be made “in accordance with the average accomplished on the first part of the stage in order to attribute a finishing time.”

Teams in the car and track categories also were halted at Checkpoint 3. Dakar Rally officials said rankings for the day would be established from the times at this point.

“For me, it was hard,” Al-Attiyah said. “We had two flat tires and then 300 km, we can not really drive, but we are here now. I think the organization made it better safe to not finish the stage from the ice and the rain.”

Americans also excelled despite conditions in the T3 lightweight prototype category. Austin “A.J.” Jones earned the Stage 3 victory while Red Bull Off-Road Junior teammate Seth Quintero placed second to take the overall lead. Francisco Lopez Cortardo fell from first to sixth overall after getting caught in a flash flood and finishing nearly 90 minutes off the lead in 33rd.

NBC Sports’ daily 6:30 p.m. ET coverage of the 2023 Dakar Rally will continue tonight on Peacock’s NBC Sports channel.

NEXT: Stage 4 of the  2023 Dakar Rally will cover 573 kilometers (including 425 km against the clock in the special) in a loop stage around Ha’il that will feature several enormous sand dunes (over 100 km) and tricky navigation.

Here are the stage winners and the top three in the overall rankings for each category (along with U.S. notables) after Stage 3 of the 2023 Dakar Rally:


Car

Stage 3 winner: Guerlain Chicherit (FRA), GCK Motorsport, 3:22:59.

General rankings: 1. Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT), Toyota Gazoo Racing, 12:20:35; 2. Yazeed Al Rajhi (SAU), Overdrive Racing, 12:33:54; 3. Simon Vitse (FRA), MD Rally, 12:45:28.

Bike

Stage 3 winner: Daniel Sanders (AUS), Red Bull GasGas Factory Racing, 4:24:15.

General rankings: 1. Daniel Sanders (AUS), Red Bull GasGas Factory Racing, 14:05:38; 2. Mason Klein (USA), BAS world KTM, 14:09:42; 3. Kevin Benavides (ARG), 14:12:31. U.S. notables: 4. Skyler Howes, Husqvarna Factory Racing, 14:14:13; 35. Jacob Argubright, Duust Co Rally Team, 16:20:20; 51. Pablo Copetti, Del Amo Motorsports, 17:46:05; 66. Paul Neff, American Rally Originals, 18:34:33; 72. Petr Vlcek, Detyens Racing, 18:47:31; 81. Kyle McCoy, American Rally Originals, 19:19:51; 82. David Pearson, American Rally Originals, 19:35:08; 107. Lawrence Ace Nilson, Duust Rally Team, 21:38:18; 115. James Pearson, American Rally Originals, 23:00:22; 120. Morrison Hart, American Rally Originals, 26:08:45. Withdrew: Ricky Brabec (USA), Monster Energy Honda, 9:42:49).

Quad

Stage 3 winner: Alexandre Giroud (FRA), Yamaha Racing, 6:21:06.

General rankings: 1. Alexandre Giroud (FRA), Yamaha Racing, 16:57:18; 2. Francisco Moreno Flores (ARG), Dragon, 17:32:49; 3.Pablo Copetti (USA), Del Amo Motorsports, 17:46:05.

T3 light prototype

Stage 3 winner: Austin “A.J.” Jones (USA), Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team, 4:05:03.

General rankings: 1. Seth Quintero (USA), Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team, 13:52:06; 2. Guillaume De Mevius (BEL), Grally Team, 13:53:07. 3. Mitch Guthrie (USA), Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team, 13:57:52; 4. Austin “A.J.” Jones (USA), Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team, 9:53:58.

T4 SSV

Stage 3 winner: Marek Goczal (POL), Energylandia Rally Team, 4:20:45.

General rankings: 1. Marek Goczal (POL), Energylandia Rally Team, 14:28:03; 2. Rodrigo Luppi De Oliveira (BRA), South Racing Can-Am, 14:39:39; 3. Eryk Goczal (POL), Energylandia Rally Team, 15:01:18.

Truck 

Stage 3 winner: Martin Macik (CZE), MM Technology, 4:03:03.

1. Ales Loprais (CZE), Instaforex Loprais Praga, 13:54:36; 2. Jaroslav Valtr (CZE), Tatra Bucgyra ZM Racing, 14:03:51; 3. Janus Van Kasteren (NLD), Boss Machinter Team De Rooy Iveco, 14:20:04.


PAST RECAPS

STAGE 1: Ricky Brabec opens with victory; Carlos Sainz keeps Audi on top

STAGE 2: Mason Klein continues U.S. surge in bikes

PROLOGUE: Mattias Ekstrom leads Audi charge

CARRYING THE FLAGU.S. drivers and riders in the 2023 Dakar Rally

IndyCar Preseason, Day 2: Helio Castroneves addresses racing future, says 2023 is ‘huge’

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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – Entering what could be the final season of his NTT IndyCar Series career, there is one race that Helio Castroneves of course has circled as key to the future.

And it surely could cinch his plans with another record-breaking win.

“It’s obviously the big one – it’s Indianapolis 500,” the four-time Indy 500 winner said during preseason media interviews last week. “That’s the one that we feel that we have the same car. We have all our bets onto that. However, I’m not going to give up on the other ones, either. I feel that we have as much of a chance as anybody in some places that I feel comfortable. Finishing in the top 12 (in points) would be a great goal.

“However, we want to be able to have a podium. We want to be able to show what we can get, and we can.”

A MAN IN FULL: Helio Castroneves as the businessman and budding team owner

Castroneves signed a one-year deal to return to Meyer Shank Racing’s No. 06 Dallara-Honda after finishing 18th in the 2022 standings, a career worst for the Brazilian over a full year in IndyCar. Castroneves managed a season-best seventh in the Indy 500 (recovering from a crash in testing) and only two other top 10s in 17 starts.

It marked the first time since Castroneves entered the CART ChampCar Series in 1998 that he failed to finishi on the podium during a full-time season (he competed part time in 2018-20 while running full time in IMSA).

Though he dodged questions about how critical results would be to keeping his seat beyond 2023, Castroneves concedes it’s a “huge” season for him. MSR has reshuffled the lineup with new “data people” and a new engineer for Castroneves, who will turn 48 in May. Though MSR already was facing challenges last season in adding a second full-time car along with Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud, the expectations are high for a swift turnaround.

Helio Castroneves at The Thermal Club test (Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment).

“Everyone understands when you’re going through, even if it’s one year, people think it’s a long time, but hey, we’re talking about teams that’s been together for a long, long time, years of experience and communication and everybody is in sync,” said Castroneves, who made six starts (including his fourth Indy 500 win) for MSR in 2021.

“Even though for us we did 2021, all those people were part-timers, and we have to start all over again. That was the first time that we had two cars in the team. There was a lot of dynamics changing. Now we are continuing to move forward. It’s important for us to be part of this process, be patient. Yeah, I can’t wait when things start to connect so we can show at the racetrack.”

Beyond coming off a dismal year and racing into his late 40s against drivers who are more than 20 years his junior, the stakes also are high for Castroneves because there’s a high-profile and obvious candidate to supplant him in 2024.

Tom Blomqvist, who teamed with Castroneves to win the Rolex 24 at Daytona for the second consecutive season, has drawn high praise for his championship-level performance in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s premier prototype category. He also has a keen interest in racing IndyCar and tested for MSR last October.

It’s led to some speculation that MSR could broker a trade between its IndyCar and IMSA teams that could swap Blomqvist for Castroneves next year.

AUTO: JAN 29 IMSA Rolex 24 Daytona
Helio Castroneves celebrates after being part of the overall winning team in the Rolex 24 at Daytona for the third consecutive year (David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).

“First of all, it’s too early to say,” Castroneves said. “Second, I don’t want anything more than great things for this team. This team is incredible. They already stamped that they’re not just a small team. They stamped that they’re an incredible team. That things amazing (are) about to happen in the future.

“Tom, come on, the kid is a superstar. He’s really quick. He’s doing an amazing job. Last year he did a great job; this year continued doing it. Let’s see. Everything happens and falls natural. But as of right now, it’s too early in the season to predict and think what’s going to happen. Our goal is to have a phenomenal result with MSR so that we can show what this team is capable.”

Castroneves already has resurrected his IndyCar career once (it seemed he was done as a full-time driver after 2017 until his Brickyard triumph), and the “Dancing With The Stars” winner seems ageless, so it’s hard to bet against him or his will to keep driving – especially after three consecutive Rolex 24 victories.

“Do you think I’m thinking retiring right now?” Castroneves said while cracking a smile. “There is no … there isn’t a thought of that. It has to feel natural. I can’t force myself. I can’t put a number or date that I can say this is it. As of right now, I am enjoying very much what I’m doing. I’m about to start a great season with IndyCar, and my mind is only thinking about that. I’m just going to continue working and get that result that I really want, that I know I’m capable and I know what the team is capable. Whatever happens in the future remains to be seen.”

In the short-term, he is taking a positive outlook that he and Pagenaud can improve on MSR’s struggles with tire wear last season. Though his speeds were average in preseason testing at The Thermal Club (Castroneves was 18th fastest on the second day), Castroneves believes the alliance with Andretti Autosport will bear more results in 2023.

2023 Gold Meets Golden 10th Anniversary Year Event - Arrivals
After last week’s preseason test at The Thermal Club, Helio Castroneves attended the 2023 Gold Meets Golden 10th Anniversary Year Event at Virginia Robinson Gardens in Beverly Hills, California (Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic).

“You’re always looking for improvement,” he said. “The good news is we finished 18th last year in the championship. That’s not a place that we want to be. However, we feel there was some areas that we felt we could have better results, but racing is unpredictable, as always. But we’re only looking forward, and we feel we’re going to have a much better season. The expectation is obviously always to do well, but also we understand the possibility of things not going according to the plan.

“But I feel the plan is that. It takes some time to collect some of the informations that we want, our alliances with Andretti Autosport also is still very strong. They also know that they need to improve. It’s not only in our organization. We still keep pushing each other so that we can have a better result like we had or that Andretti had in the past. They have their own engineers, their own resources, they translate it to us, and we’re looking forward to having a much better season, and let’s hope for the best.”

A roundup of other nuggets from the second day of IndyCar’s preseason media availabilities Feb. 1 at the Palm Springs Convention Center:


With Team Penske having announced a sponsor extension with Verizon, the future seems secure for defending series champion Will Power (who had signed a long-term extension in 2021) after a tumultuous offseason for the No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet driver. Power fractured ribs in a go-karting crash (but was able to heal quickly) and also had to withdraw from his Rolex 24 debut last month after his wife, Liz, was hospitalized.

Will Power confirmed she was back home and “much better than (mid-January), but I think we’ll know for sure in five weeks whether her blood stays sterile. She’s improved significantly from (being) in pretty bad shape.”


The elimination of double points for the Indy 500 could change the calculus of this season’s championship race, but Josef Newgarden already had designs on a major alteration. The two-time series champion, who has finished runner-up in three consecutive seasons, said his 2023 goal is to end IndyCar’s 17-year streak of determining the champion in the season finale.

“It gnaws at me for sure,” the Team Penske star, who had a series-high five wins to Power’s one in 2022, said of his recent misses to add a third title. “It’s annoying, there’s no doubt. How could you not be frustrated by it? I try and take the frustration and just put it into motivation. How are we going to build a bigger (points) gap where that’s not even possible? I don’t even want to be messing with it at the end of the year. In an ideal world, if we get to the end of a season where we don’t have to mess with the gap, if we can just get that out of the way, that would be ideal. That’s where my mindset is at, how do we get to that place where it’s not even on the table. It’s just done.

“I’m not arrogant enough to believe that that’s easy. It seems near impossible these days to do that. I think that’s valid. It’s very difficult to do that. I understand that. But I still want to find a way where we can get to a place where we don’t have to mess with it. I do not think that will be easy whatsoever, but we need to figure out how to do that. I am so positive, when we get a year where we get good timing paired with great speed and decisions, it will be a great year. It will be really great. Much better than what we had last year.”


The announcement of Conor Daly attempting to make his Daytona 500 debut (along with other Cup races for TMT) had been foreshadowed last week by the Ed Carpenter Racing driver. Unlike Castroneves, who had mulled racing Daytona with the same team, Daly said he can’t be selective about his opportunities. “I chatted with a young man by the name of Helio Castroneves earlier, and I think for him an opportunity like that could probably come about really anytime,” Daly said. “But for me, I don’t know if an opportunity like that would come again. I have done a lot in my life by (saying) ‘You know what, if there is a chance to do it, might as well do it.’ So who knows what might happen. But if there is a chance, I feel like I can’t not do it, or not try to do it at least.”

Daly finished 34th at the Roval in his Cup debut last year with the team and also has starts in the Xfinity and truck series. “The Cup car isn’t as physical to drive, but it’s still hot and still gets the heart going,” he said. “So, yeah, it was a great experience to be able to do. Not the smoothest experience, I will say, but really cool to get to do that and be a part of the NASCAR Cup Series and hopefully obviously shine some light on the IndyCar Series as well. I think we deserve more attention than we have got in the past. I hope we continue to get more in the future. Obviously people still want to do these races in this series that we’re a part of. Kyle Larson is coming to do the Indy 500. Everyone wants to see that.”


Though Jimmie Johnson has admitted he “never found the knife’s edge” during his two-year stint in IndyCar, Scott Dixon said he’ll be missed as a teammate. “I think anybody that knows Jimmie well, he’s a great person,” Dixon said. “He’s a fun guy to hang out with. I think what he brought to the team, whether it was on the sponsor side to his competitiveness and competition side and info, not just information but kind of his history of being so successful I think really helped with the team.

“For me it was probably more so on just the friendship side of hanging out with him. I think that was in Nashville where he was kind of talking about maybe not coming back, but I was like, ‘Come on, man, you’ve got to make sure you can get the deal together and come back.’ Obviously we can see that he’s moved on to different pastures, and a lot of exciting stuff for him that’s coming up.”

Dixon still believes Johnson could return for the Indy 500 but probably not until next year with NASCAR and Le Mans on his plate for 2023. “Maybe he’s already punted until next year, I don’t know,” Dixon said. “But he wants to do (the Indy 500 again). It’s just timing. It’s very difficult, and especially with the Garage 56 entry and all that kind of stuff, there’s a lot going on, especially around that period of time.”