Dakar Rally 2023, Stage 8: Skyler Howes, Mason Klein keep American riders at front


Entering the rest day for the 2023 Dakar Rally, American riders Skyler Howes and Mason Klein remained strong contenders for the bike championship after Stage 8.

Klein finished third in the 345-kilometer special and would have taken the overall lead if not for a 2-minute speeding penalty. Instead, he is tied with Kevin Benavides — both KTM riders are 13 seconds behind the overall leader from St. George, Utah.

With six stages remaining, Howes clung to first in the rankings for the fourth consecutive day. The Husqvarna Factory Racing driver finished 20th on his 450 Rally Factory bike in Stage 8, losing several minutes to Benavides and Klein.

Howes had entered the stage leading by 3 minutes, 31 seconds over two-time Dakar Rally champion Toby Price, who fell to fourth overall by finishing 17th in Stage 8.

Howes and Price were among a pack of riders opening the stage (which generally is considered more difficult for gaining time).

“I thought we had a decent pace going,” Howes said. “Today was definitely a day in my feeling that you definitely could lose it. I’d rather lose some time than go home. Definitely was taking it nice and easy, but I feel we did a decent job on navigation and just didn’t go very fast doing it.

“The dirt out there is really wet, and we’re just leaving a perfect marker for everyone else to follow. It took us a long time to really figure it out and do it properly. The other guys could go full gas through there because they could see our line perfect. It was definitely a tough day to open, but that’s part of the game, and that’ll set us up in a better position for the next stage, which is supposed to be challenging.”

Ross Branch won the stage over Daniel Sanders and Klein, the Southern California native making only his second start in the Dakar Rally.

“I was doing my best today, and I really wanted to win this stage,” Klein, 21, said. “Unfortunately, Ross just beat me. Pretty sad. I think I’m leading the overall, which makes me pretty happy going into the rest day. It was a really good day.

“I didn’t expect (to be at this level), but I really wanted it. I had a big crash in the dunes, not a big one, but it could have been really bad. I was doing a handstand for a really long time, and I landed with both legs on the left side of the bike, I used the front brake, and I had to drop the bike and crash on purpose to not go off the edge of the dune. It was pretty scary. I had to (relieve myself) twice today. I blame that for why I lost.”

Klein and Howes each are bidding to become the second U.S. bike champion in the 45-year history of the Dakar Rally.

Ricky Brabec won the bike category in 2020, becoming the first American champion in Dakar history.

Carlos Sainz (left) passes Simon Vitse in his Audi RS Q e-tron E2 during Stage 8 of the Dakar Rally (Franck Fife/AFP via Getty Images).

In the car category, Sebastien Loeb won the stage by 2 minutes 11 seconds over Nasser Al-Attiyah, who maintained his stranglehold on the overall lead.

“It was a good stage, a clean stage this time,” Loeb said. “Just one puncture. We had to change one wheel, but the rest was OK. We tried to make it a big one. It was good navigation. The stage was not so easy. I’m happy to be here.”

Rebounding from an abysmal stretch of Team Audi misfortune, Carlos Sainz finished third (and would have won the stage if not for a 5-minute speeding penalty assessed to his RS Q e-tron E2).

“We had a good stage, a clean stage,” Sainz said. ” Finally, we got to enjoy ourselves a little bit and get a clear run. Starting so far behind, we had no dust, thanks to the rain.

“I liked it much better before in the Dakar. When a priority driver got a problem, you were immediately put in the top 15. I think it’s not good for us, not good for the others. I’m very disappointed at all the problems we got. The whole team was not very lucky. I think we’ve been unlucky, but we’ll keep attacking and enjoying the race.”

DAKAR CONTROVERSY: Audi electric hybrids given power boost

In the hunt for his fifth Dakar Rally title, defending car champion Al-Attiyah leads by 1 hour, 3 minutes, 46 seconds over Toyota Gazoo Racing teammate Henk Lategan. Loeb is ranked fourth overall, 1:52:06 behind the leader.

“We were careful to avoid (punctures) until the final section of dunes and sandy tracks, where we were able to attack,” Al-Attiyah said. “I’m quite happy. All our hard work at the beginning of the race is paying off. Now we have to try and be in the top three every day to earn as many points as we can for the championship. Next week I’ll be home on the dunes. There’ll be plenty of dunes, but you have to be careful and take it one day at a time.”

In the T3 light prototype category, Joao Ferreira earned his first stage win, and Mitch Guthrie finished third. American Austin “A.J.” Jones was fourth, and the Red Bull Junior Off Road Team driver cut a few minutes off the margin to Guillaume De Mevius, who leads by 3 minutes, 19 seconds after an 11th in the stage.

“It was a nice run today,” Jones said. “Rocky, fast, like desert sections. so more my style. I dug it. We saw at the refuel that (De Mevius) was having a little bit of an issue, so we went for it in the second half. We’re happy.”

U.S. teammate Seth Quintero finished 10th in the stage but still gained a little time on De Mevius and now is 1:02:25 behind. Quintero said he suffered a puncture after a T1 car kicked a rock in his path with 100 kilometers remaining.

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

NEXT: Monday will be the rest day for the Dakar Rally before the final six stages. The event will resume Tuesday with Stage 9, a 710-kilometer route (439 against the clock in the special) from Riyadh to Haradh.

Here are the stage winners and the top three in the overall rankings for each category (along with U.S. notables) after Stage 8 of the 2023 Dakar Rally:


Stage 8 winner: Sebastien Loeb (FRA), Bahrain Raid Xtreme, 3:34:24

General rankings: 1. Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT), Toyota Gazoo Racing, 31:02:58; 2. Henk Lategan (ZAF), Toyota Gazoo Racing, 32:06:44; 3. Lucas Moraes (BRA), Overdrive Racing, 32:23:20.


Stage 8 winner: Ross Branch (BWA), Hero Motorsports Team Rally, 3:46:18

General rankings: 1. Skyler Howes (USA), Husqvarna Factory Racing, 30:34:16; 2. Kevin Benavides (ARG), Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, 30:34:29; 3. Mason Klein (USA), BAS world KTM Racing Team, 30:34:29. U.S. notables: 25. Jacob Argubright, Duust Co Rally Team, 29:52:31; 47. Pablo Copetti, Del Amo Motorsports, 39:39:16; 61. Petr Vlcek, Detyens Racing, 41:42:55; 93. Paul Neff, American Rally Originals, 57:10:27; 95. Morrison Hart, American Rally Originals, 57:34:14; 96. James Pearson, American Rally Originals, 58:06:21; 103. David Pearson, American Rally Originals, 145:36:08; 104. Lawrence Ace Nilson, Duust Rally Team, 150:06:53. Withdrawal (excluded): Kyle McCoy, American Rally Originals. Withdrew: Ricky Brabec (USA), Monster Energy Honda, 9:42:49.


Stage 8 winner: Manuel Andujar (ARG), 7240 Team, 4:56:05

General rankings: 1. Alexandre Giroud (FRA), Yamaha Racing, 37:57:04; 2. Manuel Andujar (ARG), 7240 Team, 39:38:41; 3. Pablo Copetti (USA), Del Amo Motorsports, 39:39:16.

T3 light prototype

Stage 8 winner: Joao Ferreira (PRT), X-Raid Yamaha Supported Team, 4:11:36

General rankings: 1. Guillaume De Mevius (BEL), Grally Team, 36:03:09. 2. Austin “A.J.” Jones (USA), Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team, 36:06:28. 3. Seth Quintero (USA), Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team, 37:05:34. U.S. notable: Mitch Guthrie, Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team, 60:38:12.


Stage 8 winner: Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli (ARG), South Racing Can-Am, 4:16:18

General rankings: 1. Rokas Baciuska (LTU), Red Bull Can-Am Factory Team, 37:33:31; 2. Marek Goczal (POL), Energylandia Rally Team, 37:38:05; 3. Eryk Goczal (POL), Energylandia Rally Team, 37:39:19.


Stage 8 winner: Martin Macik (CZE), MM Technology, 4:04:28

General rankings: 1. Ales Loprais (CZE), Instaforex Loprais Praga, 36:30:58; 2. Martin Van Den Brink (NLD), Eurol Team De Rooy Iveco, 36:47:15; 3. Janus Van Kastren (NLD), Boss Machinery Team De Rooy Iveco, 37:09:01.


PROLOGUE: Mattias Ekstrom leads Audi charge

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

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

STAGE 3: Brabec is eliminated by crash as inclement weather shortens stage

STAGE 4: Klein, Skyler Howes overcome adversity

STAGE 5: Skyler Howes moves into overall lead in bikes

STAGE 6: Disastrous day for Audi as crashes eliminate contenders

STAGE 7: Americans excel in T3 light prototype

AUDI CONTROVERSY: Electric hybrids given power boost

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

Strong rebounds for Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi amid some disappointments in the Indy 500


INDIANAPOLIS – Alex Palou had not turned a wheel wrong the entire Month of May at the Indy 500 until Rinus VeeKay turned a wheel into the Chip Ganassi Racing pole-sitter leaving pit road on Lap 94.

“There is nothing I could have done there,” Palou told NBC Sports. “It’s OK, when it is my fault or the team’s fault because everybody makes mistakes. But when there is nothing, you could have done differently there, it feels bad and feels bad for the team.”

Marcus Ericsson was a master at utilizing the “Tail of the Dragon” move that breaks the draft of the car behind him in the closing laps to win last year’s Indianapolis 500. On Sunday, however, the last of three red flags in the final 16 laps of the race had the popular driver from Sweden breathing fire after Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden beat him at his own game on the final lap to win the Indianapolis 500.

Despite the two disappointments, team owner Chip Ganassi was seen on pit road fist-bumping a member on his four-car team in this year’s Indianapolis 500 after his drivers finished second, fourth, sixth and seventh in the tightly contested race.

Those are pretty good results, but at the Indianapolis 500, there is just one winner and 32 losers.

“There is only one winner, but it was a hell of a show,” three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and Chip Ganassi Racing consultant Dario Franchitti told NBC Sports. “Alex was very fast, and he got absolutely caught out in somebody else’s wreck. There was nothing he could have done, but he and the 10 car, great recovery.

“Great recovery by all four cars because at half distance, we were not looking very good.”

After 92 laps, the first caution flew for Sting Ray Robb of Dale Coyne Racing hitting the Turn 1 wall.

During pit stops on Lap 94, Palou had left his stall when the second-place car driven by VeeKay ran into him, putting Palou’s Honda into the wall. The car sustained a damaged front wing, but the Chip Ganassi crew was able to get him back in the race on the lead lap but in 28th position.

Palou ultimately would fight his way to a fourth-place finish in a race the popular Spaniard could have won. His displeasure with VeeKay, whom he sarcastically called “a legend” on his team radio after the incident, was evident.

“The benefit of being on pole is you can drive straight and avoid crashes, and he was able to crash us on the side on pit lane, which is pretty tough to do, but he managed it,” Palou told NBC Sports. “Hopefully next year we are not beside him. Hopefully, next year we have a little better luck.”

Palou started on the pole and led 36 laps, just three fewer than race leader Pato O’Ward of Arrow McLaren Racing.

“We started really well, was managing the fuel as we wanted, our car was pretty good,” Palou said. “Our car wasn’t great, we dropped to P4 or P5, but we still had some good stuff.

“On the pit stop, the 21 (VeeKay) managed to clip us. Nothing we could have done there. It was not my team’s fault or my fault.

“We had to drop to the end. I’m happy we made it back to P4. We needed 50 more laps to make it happen, but it could have been a lot worse after that contact.

“I learned a lot, running up front at the beginning and in mid-pack and then the back. I learned a lot.

“It feels amazing when you win it and not so good when things go wrong. We were a bit lucky with so many restarts at the end to make it back to P4 so I’m happy with that.”

Palou said the front wing had to be changed and the toe-in was a bit off, but he still had a fast car.

In fact, his Honda was the best car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway all month. His pole-winning four lap average speed of 234.217 miles per hour around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a record for this fabled race.

Palou looked good throughout the race, before he had to scratch and claw and race his way back to the top-five after he restarted 28th.

In the Indianapolis 500, however, the best car doesn’t always win.

“It’s two years in a row that we were leading the race at the beginning and had to drop to last,” Palou said. “Maybe next year, we will start in the middle of the field and go on to win the race.

“I know he didn’t do it on purpose. It’s better to let that pass someday.”

Palou said the wild racing at the end was because the downforce package used in Sunday’s race means the drivers have to be aggressive. The front two cars can battle for the victory, but cars back in fourth or fifth place can’t help determine the outcome of the race.

That is when the “Tail of the Dragon” comes into the play.

Franchitti helped celebrate Ericsson’s win in 2022 with his “Tail of the Dragon” zigzag move – something he never had to do in any of his three Indianapolis 500 victories because they all finished under caution.

In 2023, however, IndyCar Race Control wants to make every attempt to finish the race under green, without going past the scheduled distance like NASCAR’s overtime rule.

Instead of extra laps, they stop the race with a red flag, to create a potential green-flag finish condition.

“You do what you have to do to win within the rules, and it’s within the rules, so you do it,” Franchitti said. “The race is 200 laps and there is a balance.

“Marcus did a great job on that restart and so did Josef. It was just the timing of who was where and that was it.

“If you knew it was going to go red, you would have hung back on the lap before.

“Brilliant job by the whole Ganassi organization because it wasn’t looking very good at half-distance.

“Full marks to Josef Newgarden and Team Penske.”

Franchitti is highly impressed by how well Ericsson works with CGR engineer Brad Goldberg and how close this combination came to winning the Indianapolis 500 two-years-in-a-row.

It would have been the first back-to-back Indy 500 winner since Helio Castroneves in 2001 and 2002.

“Oh, he’s a badass,” Franchitti said Ericsson. “He proved it last year. He is so calm all day. What more do you need? As a driver, he’s fast and so calm.”

Ericsson is typically in good spirits and jovial.

He was stern and direct on pit road after the race.

“I did everything right, I did an awesome restart, caught Josef off-guard and pulled away,” Ericsson said on pit lane. “It’s hard to pull away a full lap and he got me back.

“I’m mostly disappointed with the way he ended. I don’t think it was fair and safe to do that restart straight out of the pits on cold tires for everyone.

“To me, it was not a good way to end that race.

“Congrats to Josef. He didn’t do anything wrong. He is a worthy champion, but it shouldn’t have ended like that.”

Palou also didn’t understand the last restart, which was a one-start showdown.

“I know that we want to finish under green,” Palou said. “Maybe the last restart I did, I didn’t understand. It didn’t benefit the CGR team.

“I’m not very supportive of the last one, but anyway.”

Dixon called the red flags “a bit sketchy.”

“The red flags have become a theme to the end of the race, but sometimes they can catch you out,” Dixon said. “I know Marcus is frustrated with it.

“All we ask for is consistency. I think they will do better next time.

“It’s a tough race. People will do anything they can to win it and with how these reds fall, you have to be in the right place at the right time. The problem is when they throw a Red or don’t throw a Red dictates how the race will end.

“It’s a bloody hard race to win. Congrats to Josef Newgarden and to Team Penske.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500