American riders remained a force in the 2023 Dakar Rally as Skyler Howes took the overall lead in the bikes category while Mason Klein finished fourth in Stage 5.
Rebounding from a fuel pump problem that cost him a stage win Wednesday, Klein pushed to reach the podium a little over 5 minutes behind winner Adrien Van Beveren in a very physical 645-kilometer fifth stage littered with massive dunes.
“The stage went really well for me,” said Klein, who left the starting line later after an 11th in Stage 4. “Starting further back made navigation almost unnecessary. It was a super good stage. I’m totally spent, though. I’m so tired, and my back hurts so bad. The dunes just never stopped. There were so many times when I was ready to pull over, I was like just so done.
“When I saw the finishing line, I got so happy.”
Perhaps even happier was Howes, who finished sixth in the stage (10 minutes off the lead) and moved into first overall. Howes has been extremely consistent on his Husqvarna 450 Rally Factory bike with three podiums and no finishes outside the top 10.
Ranked ninth after Stage 1, he steadily has risen through the standings to the overall lead by 2 minutes, 7 seconds over Toby Price through five of 14 stages. (Daniel Sanders, who had led after Stage 4, fell to eighth overall after losing 26 minutes in a 21st-place Stage 5.)
In an Instagram post, Howes wrote: “Another demanding day! I thought I had a good pace going this morning when I look back and see Toby running me down! I tried to pick up the pace and next thing we know we had got off the roadbook and were lost. Looking back at where we made the mistake I’m kicking myself because it’s so clear what we were supposed to do. But at the time, with the track in front of us more or less invisible from the wind and rain, it was easy to get tripped up.
“After finding our way again we were all in one big group and I saw the gnarliest crash ever, (Joan) Barreda (Bort) swapped out in the camel grass right in front of Toby and Toby drilled him and they both went tumbling. It was carnage. I still can not believe what I witnessed. And that Joan was able to continue after being fully knocked out. So insane. Glad both of those guys are more or less ok. Anyways, lots of camel grass and hard work on the body. Looks like some more challenges with a flooded bivouac and long liaisons tomorrow! 💪🏼”
Klein, 21, is 6 minutes, 12 seconds behind Howes in fourth overall and has been nearly as consistent in only his second Dakar Rally start.
Stage 5 marked his third top-four finish (including a Stage 2 victory), though it came with some anxious moments for the Agua Dulce, California, native who lost several minutes to repairs after water got in his fuel line with 100 kilometers left in Stage 4.
Klein was relieved “we had no problems with the bike” Thursday. “We were super lucky,” he said. “They checked all the fuel. At the fuel stop I even drained some out to make sure that there was no water. It sucks to lose 10 minutes for something silly like that. It was super frustrating, but we’ll just move on.”
In the cars division, Nasser Al-Attiyah widened his overall lead to more than 20 minutes with his second stage victory. The defending Dakar Rally champion won by nearly 2 minutes over the Audis of Carlos Sainz and Stephane Peterhansel.
“It was a very tough stage,” Al-Attiyah said. “We tried to really push like crazy. We took a lot of risks after the decision we made yesterday. The other teams have more power and more horsepower, but I’m happy to finish today without any problems. It’s very hard because the base is that we’re pushing a lot, and we are really tired.”
Sainz, 60, also was punished by the rough terrain.
“It was really very demanding for the body,” the three-time Dakar Rally champion said “I think I’ve injured my neck a little bit. I hope it’s not too bad tomorrow. The suspension was a little bit too hard, but it was not easy, the stage was rough. We hope we can carry on and get to the end. It’s still a long way. We need to keep pushing.”
Peterhansel, the rally raid legend known as “Mr. Dakar,” also said the conditions were brutal.
“For me, it was one of the hardest stages in my life,” Peterhansel said. “I don’t know why. Because the car was so hard with the suspension yesterday, we changed the suspension, so maybe the shocks were not good, or the rain in the sand made it harder than normally, but something about it was really not nice. We took a lot of impacts on the back of our necks, so it was not an easy stage for sure.”
After winning the fourth stage, Sebastien Loeb encountered mechanical problems and rolled his car, finishing more than 20 minutes behind Al-Attiyah.
“I think we were doing a good stage, but I made a mistake on a tricky dune,” Loeb said. ” We landed and hit a big bit of camel grass and ended up with the car on its side. So, we lost some time for this, but for the rest it was a good stage. There was no problem with the car, so that was quite good”.
— DAKAR RALLY (@dakar) January 5, 2023
In the T3 light prototype category, Seth Quintero rebounded with his first stage victory after a disastrous Stage 4 dropped him well off the lead. The American still trails overall leader Guillaume De Mevius by an hour and 5 minutes.
“It was super awesome,” the Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team driver said. Yesterday, unfortunately we had that big issue running out of fuel and shearing the hub of the left rear. Today I had a lot to prove to myself. We haven’t got a stage win yet, so I figured that it’s time to get one of those.
“We drove really well all day long and made no mistakes. We definitely had a little bit more left in the tank, but I think today we had an awesomely conservative pace just to get the job done. We’re going to keep doing that. We’ve gone to third overall, so we’re back in it. There’s a long way to go and we’ve got a lot of racing left, so we’ll keep trying to do our best and see what happens.”
Teammate and fellow American Austin “A.J.” Jones is in second overall after a third Thursday.
“It wasn’t the most fun stage, but we made it through and here we are,” said Jones, who is 7 minutes, 20 seconds behind De Mevius. “It wasn’t anything special for us. We just kind of cruised all day. We saw one of the guys who was in front of us in the general rankings who was stopped with some type of problem. After we saw that, we decided to just get to the finish and not risk doing anything crazy.”
After taking the overall lead with his second stage victory a day earlier, Red Bull teammate Mitch Guthrie fell out of contention in Stage 5 with a 35th-place finish that was nearly 8 hours behind Quintero. The American fell from first to 15th overall and is 7:31:08 behind the leader.
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 6 of the 2023 Dakar Rally will cover 877 kilometers (including 466 km against the clock in the special) in a marathon journey from Ha’il to Al Duwadimi. The longest stage of the Dakar Rally will feature blazing speeds through extensive plateaus and capped by a barrage of dunes. Rally organizers announced Jan. 5 that Stage 6 and its special would be shortened by a few hundred kilometers because of rain-soaked course conditions that precluded putting the bivouac in Al Duwadimi.
Here are the stage winners and the top three in the overall rankings for each category (along with U.S. notables) after Stage 5 of the 2023 Dakar Rally:
Stage 5 winner: Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT), Toyota Gazoo Racing, 4:13:23.
General rankings: 1. Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT), Toyota Gazoo Racing, 20:47:36; 2. Stephane Peterhansel (FRA), Team Audi Sport, 21:10:12; 3. Yazeed Al Rajhi (SAU), Overdrive Racing, 21:14:37.
Stage 5 winner: Adrien Van Beveren (FRA) 4:27:28
General rankings: 1. Skyler Howes (USA), Husqvarna Factory Racing, 23:16:37; 2. Toby Price (AUS), Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, 23:18:44; 3. Kevin Benavides (ARG), Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, 23:21:53. U.S. notables: 4. Mason Klein (USA), BAS world KTM Racing Team, 23:22:49; 26. Jacob Argubright, Duust Co Rally Team, 26:15:33; 47. Pablo Copetti, Del Amo Motorsports, 30:03:33; 55. Paul Neff, American Rally Originals, 30:46:17; 63. Petr Vlcek, Detyens Racing, 31:34:21; 82. David Pearson, American Rally Originals, 34:01:08; 95. Lawrence Ace Nilson, Duust Rally Team, 38:31:53; 102. James Pearson, American Rally Originals, 42:28:25; 105. Morrison Hart, American Rally Originals, 44:47:32; 112. Kyle McCoy, American Rally Originals, 75:43:00. Withdrew: Ricky Brabec (USA), Monster Energy Honda, 9:42:49.
Stage 5 winner:
General rankings: 1. Alexandre Giroud (FRA), Yamaha Racing, 28:46:12; 2. Francisco Moreno Flores (ARG), Dragon, 29:26:00; 3. Laisvydas Kancius (LTU), Story Racing S.R.O., 29:58:51; U.S. notable: 4. Pablo Copetti (USA), Del Amo Motorsports, 30:03:33.
T3 light prototype
Stage 5 winner: Seth Quintero (USA), Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team, 4:59:55.
General rankings: 1. Guillaume De Mevius (BEL), Grally Team, 24:15:39. 2. Austin “A.J.” Jones (USA), Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team, 24:22:59. 3. Seth Quintero (USA), Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team, 25:21:28. U.S. notable: Mitch Guthrie, Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team, 31:46:47.
Stage 5 winner: Rokas Baciuska (LTU), Red Bull Can-Am Factory Team, 5:02:52.
General rankings: 1. Rodrigo Luppi De Oliveira (BRA), South Racing Can-Am, 25:13:20; 2. Eryk Goczal (POL), Energylandia Rally Team, 25:30:05; 3. Rokas Baciuska (LTU), Red Bull Can-Am Factory Team, 25:33:44.
Stage 5 winner: Ales Loprais (CZE), Instaforex Loprais Praga, 5:06:57.
1. Ales Loprais (CZE), Instaforex Loprais Praga, 24:30:26; 2. Martin Vandenbrink (NLD), Eurol team De Rooy Iveco, 24:45:48; 3. Janus Van Kastren (NLD), Boss Machinery Team De Rooy Iveco, 25:22:24.
PROLOGUE: Mattias Ekstrom leads Audi charge
CARRYING THE FLAG: U.S. drivers and riders in the 2023 Dakar Rally