It was another up-and-down day for American riders who weathered more adversity in Stage 4 of the 2023 Dakar Rally.
Mason Klein was cruising toward a stage victory in the bikes category when his fuel pump intake failed 20 kilometers from the finish of the 574-kilometer loop stage around Ha’il in Saudi Arabia.
He finished the fourth stage in 11th and fell more than 10 minutes behind overall leader Daniel Sanders after Klein had entered second overall, 4 minutes off first place.
“The stage was really nice; everything was going really well,” said the Southern California native, who fell to sixth in the overall standings. “I got to open a good amount, so that was really nice. I got some bonus time, which is probably going to really help me.
“It’s pretty disappointing because the day was going so well, but at least we made it here. Tomorrow, maybe I’ll try and make up some time again, I guess. It’s pretty hard. You can’t really make up time. You just lose it.”
Klein said in an Instagram post that water got in his fuel line because he was the first rider to the refuel station and “when you’re the first one there, that’s what happens. You get all the water.”
In the Dakar Rally, competitors make their own repairs, so Klein, 21, lost precious time while scrambling into the role of makeshift mechanic in only his second start in the rally raid classic. Klein said he struggled to reattach a skid plate bolt and “was getting very stressed” while estimating he lost at least 5 minutes on the repair.
“I have a bunch of tools with me, so I basically ran out in the dunes, got my seat off, took out the tools, dropped it the ground, undid a couple of clips, undid three bolts, then I poured it back in,” Klein said. “It didn’t go that smoothly though, because I couldn’t make the bike stand up until I had some gas in the tank again, so the whole time I had to balance the bike while taking everything off. You can’t get the skid plate off when it’s just laying on the ground. It’s just difficult.”
But it wasn’t all bad news for American riders (whose ranks were thinned Tuesday by the withdrawal of past champion and 2023 title contender Ricky Brabec).
Skyler Howes improved from fourth to second overall (3 minutes 33 seconds behind Sanders) after his second consecutive podium finish on his Husqvarna 450 Rally Factory. The St. George, Utah, native finished third Wednesday, 1 minute and 5 seconds behind Stage 4 winner Joan Barradea Bort. Pablo Quintanilla was second.
But the stage still was a slog for Howes, who flipped over the handlebars a couple of times on soft dunes in the morning.
He was leading after the refuel, but then had “a really big crash” when he apparently clipped a rock while navigating a tricky section where water covered most of the tones. Howes landed on his back and had the wind knocked out of him, but he was OK after overall leader Sanders stopped to check on him.
“(The imapct) deployed my airbag, which helped quite a bit,” Howes said. “From that point, I had no motivation and was riding like a zombie. Toward the end, I snapped back into it, started pushing heavy with (Sanders) to the finish.”
In a battle of Frenchmen in the cars division, Sebastien Loeb edged Stephane Peterhansel by 13 seconds to win the fourth stage. Carlos Sainz rebounded with a fourth place after losing the lead in Stage 3.
Loeb hung on for the victory despite having no power steering the final 20 kilometers.
“We tried to push really hard on this stage,” Loeb said. “We went on full attack all the time. We had to finish the stage very slowly (without power steering). I couldn’t keep the car on the tracks. We spun out at one point because I couldn’t turn the steering wheel.”
Dakar legend Peterhansel just missed out on his 50th career stage win in cars. “It was perfect conditions,” he said. “If we wanted to get a good time, we had to push and take a lot of impacts on the car as well as the body. It’s always a surprise just how hard it is inside the car. It’s like fighting for four hours.”
Defending Dakar Rally champion Nasser Al-Attiyah built his overall lead to more than 18 minutes with a fourth in Stage 4. Yazeed Al Rajhi is second overall, followed by the Team Audi electric hybrids of Peterhansel (18 minutes, 18 seconds behind) and Sainz (32:55).
“A long stage, not easy and very tough,” Al-Attiyah said. “There was a lot of camel grass and off-piste. It wasn’t easy. We had one flat tire and then we tried to push. We’ve been really very fast. We’ve made no mistakes at all, and Mathieu navigated well. We are quite happy. The race is really changing every day, but we are trying to keep our strategy and our pace every day. The Audi is fast in the sand, but we are quite happy to finish day four.”
In T3 light prototype, American Mitch Guthrie took the overall lead with his second stage victory. The Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team driver is 89 seconds ahead of Guillaume De Mevius. Red Bull teammate and fellow American Austin A.J. Jones, who won the third stage, finished third and is third overall.
“It was a really good stage for us,” Guthrie said. “It was a long stage. I think today was our first real taste of what the dunes are going to be like here in Saudi Arabia. The previous days we’ve had a lot of rocks, but today it was sand pretty much most of the time.
“It was definitely challenging. It took us up a lot of big dunes, so me and Kellon, my co-pilot, had to work together really well because in many areas you had to find your way around or take some steep climbs to get to the other side. Overall, I’m really happy.”
Said Jones: “Long day, tough day, but we’re happy to be here for sure. It was a tough one”
After entering with the overall lead, California native Seth Quintero struggled to 10th, finishing nearly 90 minutes behind his teammate Guthrie. In an Instagram post, Quintero chronicled the events of his disastrous stage: the studs of his left-rear tire were sheared off; power steering failed; and he ran out of fuel twice.
Quintero fell to fourth overall, more than an hour and 21 minutes behind Guthrie.
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 5 of the 2023 Dakar Rally will cover 646 kilometers (including 375 km against the clock in the special) in another loop stage around the Saudi capital of off-road racing. The terrain will feature vast expanses interrupted by dunes.
Here are the stage winners and the top three in the overall rankings for each category (along with U.S. notables) after Stage 4 of the 2023 Dakar Rally:
Stage 4 winner: Sebastien Loeb (FRA), Bahrain Raid Xtreme, 4:11:34.
General rankings: 1. Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT), Toyota Gazoo Racing, 16:34:13; 2. Yazeed Al Rajhi (SAU), Overdrive Racing, 16:52:31; 3. Stephane Peterhansel (FRA), Team Audi Sport, 16:53:05.
Stage 4 winner: Joan Barreda Bort (ESP), Monster Energy JB Team, 4:28:18.
General rankings: 1. Daniel Sanders (AUS), Red Bull GasGas Factory Racing, 18:40:03; 2. Skyler Howes (USA), Husqvarna Factory Racing, 18:43:36; 3. Kevin Benavides (ARG), Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, 18:44:08. U.S. notables: 6. Mason Klein, BAS world KTM Racing Team, 18:50:08; 28. Jacob Argubright, Duust Co Rally Team, 21:24:45; 50. Pablo Copetti, Del Amo Motorsports, 24:13:19; 63. Paul Neff, American Rally Originals, 24:50:44; 65. Petr Vlcek, Detyens Racing, 25:03:46; 76. Kyle McCoy, American Rally Originals, 26:11:00; 83. David Pearson, American Rally Originals, 26:55:19; 97. Lawrence Ace Nilson, Duust Rally Team, 29:26:50; 107. James Pearson, American Rally Originals, 32:26:50; 111. Morrison Hart, American Rally Originals, 35:59:40). Withdrew: Ricky Brabec (USA), Monster Energy Honda, 9:42:49.
Stage 4 winner: Alexandre Giroud (FRA), Yamaha Racing, 5:52:17.
General rankings: 1. Alexandre Giroud (FRA), Yamaha Racing, 22:49:35; 2. Francisco Moreno Flores (ARG), Dragon, 23:36:39; 3. Manuel Andujar, 7240 Team, 23:57:47; U.S. notable: 5. Pablo Copetti (USA), Del Amo Motorsports, 24:13:19.
T3 light prototype
Stage 4 winner: Mitch Guthrie (USA), Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team, 5:01:55.
General rankings: 1. Mitch Guthrie (USA), Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team, 18:59:47; 2. Guillaume De Mevius (BEL), Grally Team, 19:01:16. 3. Austin “A.J.” Jones (USA), Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team, 19:11:18. 4. Seth Quintero (USA), Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team, 20:21:33
Stage 4 winner: Eryk Goczal (POL), Energylandia Rally Team, 5:18:41.
General rankings: 1. Rodrigo Luppi De Oliveira (BRA), South Racing Can-Am, 20:05:55; 2. Eryk Goczal (POL), Energylandia Rally Team, 20:19:59; 3. Rokas Baciuska (LTU), Red Bull Can-Am Factory Team, 20:30:52.
Stage 4 winner: Martin Macik (CZE), MM Technology, 5:10:23.
1. Ales Loprais (CZE), Instaforex Loprais Praga, 19:29:21; 2. Martin Vandenbrink (NLD), Eurol team De Rooy Iveco, 19:56:43; 3. Martin Macik (CZE), MM Technology, 20:08:58.
PROLOGUE: Mattias Ekstrom leads Audi charge
CARRYING THE FLAG: U.S. drivers and riders in the 2023 Dakar Rally