Kevin Benavides won the final Stage 14 of the 2023 Dakar Rally to top the overall bike title results by 43 seconds over Toby Price.
The Red Bull KTM Factory Racing rider went from third to first by winning the final two stages on his 450 Rally Factory to earn his second Dakar Rally championship. After finishing second in the opening stage, the Argentine fell to fourth overall in Stage 2 but then stayed on the overall podium for the last 12 stages with remarkable consistency.
Benavides, who also won the 2021 Dakar Rally on a Honda, finished the 136-kilometer special by 55 seconds over Price, who was second. With a fifth in the final stage, American Skyler Howes of Husqvarna Factory Racing finished third overall, 5 minutes and 4 seconds behind Benavides.
“This morning, my head was empty except for each kilometer of the stage, from 0 to 136,” Benavides said. “It’s incredible to pull off the win at the end of this completely crazy Dakar and with such a small gap. I’m also the first to win with two different motorbike brands, and that makes me very proud.
“The Honda to KTM change was a question of motivation. I’d wanted a challenge and came here in search of new success. No one else managed to win with these two brands, and that was the main reason coming here.”
P1 etapa – P1 General! CAMPEÓN DAKAR RALLY 2023 🇦🇷❤️!
Inmensamente feliz, hoy 15 de enero de 2023, hice historia nuevamente ganando por segunda vez y siendo el Primer Piloto en la historia del Dakar en ganar con dos marcas diferentes en motos! pic.twitter.com/sILtHWrAhx
— Kevin Benavides (@kmbenavides) January 15, 2023
The final margin of victory was last than a minute after nearly 44 hours and 30 minutes and 5,000 kilometers of riding against the clock.
“What an incredible Dakar,” Benavides said. “It was super hard. Every day was harder than the last, but I was always consistent. I finished every stage in the top10. I fought hard. This Dakar has been physically harder and longer and gone back to where navigation played a bigger role on complicated terrain.
“Toby and I have a good relationship. We’re rivals on the track and friends off it. Toby is an extrodinary rider.”
After entering the final stage with a 12-second lead, Price came up just short of winning his third Dakar Rally bike championship but credited Benavides, his Red Bull KTM Factory Racing teammate.
“The first point is disappointment,” the Australian said. “We’ve come so far, but look, Kevin’s done a great job. Just a little frustrated that, on the last day, they played with these 20-meter rules for the waypoints, and I had to turn back and get three of them. Yeah, hard to take at the moment, but at the end of the day I’m going home in one piece, and we got a Dakar trophy. It hurts a little bit. Kevin said he only had to turn back for one waypoint. I think the two waypoints I missed kind of cost us the race.”
Howes earned his first Dakar Rally podium in his fourth start in the prestigious off-road rally raid event. The St. George, Utah, resident was the overall leader after six stages. He also had five podium finishes in stages on his Husqvarna 450 Rally Factory.
“How could I be anything but happy,” Howes said. “I knew the guys were going to be pushing to the maximum, only separated by 12 seconds. A minute and a half is incredible after 40-something hours of racing. To be this close together… You can always look back and say ‘Aw, man, maybe I could’ve saved this here and here,’ but we’re at the finish safely, and I’m on the podium.”
The third place at Dakar continued an impressive climb by Howes, who has several big victories over the past year as he has become an established factory-backed star rider in rally. He became the first U.S. rider on the Dakar bike podium since Ricky Brabec (the first American winner of the Dakar Rally in 2020 who also took second in 2021).
“It’s such a dream come true and an honor to share the podium with two legends like Toby and Kevin,” Howes, 30, said. “It’s the most unreal feeling. I don’t even know how to describe the feeling. I look forward to coming back and pushing again and climb up the steps of the podium. But it’s an honor to be the fifth American on the podium.”
In the car category, Nasser Al-Attiyah moved up to second on the Dakar Rally all-time championship list with his fifth. The Qatar driver, who also won in 2011, ’15, ’19 and ’22, moved ahead of Ari Vatanen into second with his second consecutive championship. Al-Attiyah trails only Stéphane Peterhansel (eight) on the title list.
“We just finished, and I’m so happy,” said Al-Attiyah, who finished more than an hour ahead of runner-up Sebastien Loeb (whose stage win streak was snapped on the last day). “It was a difficult Dakar for everyone. It’s crazy to manage to defend my title. I’m very happy to win five times. I respect Ari enormously; he’s still my idol. I always want to win more and more, now I want to defend my world champion’s title.
“We didn’t have to attack like crazy. We managed to get through the second week and win the Dakar at the end. That’s what really matters.”
Al-Attiyah won three stages and finished outside the top 10 only twice in two weeks, avoiding the trouble that plagued his Team Audi rivals.
“This is a dream,” Al-Attiyah said. “I’m proud of the team. We worked really hard. These twwo weeks were very hard, and we see a lot of trouble with different teams and also us, but we were really clever to manage with no big issues. We were really excited to reach the Empty Quarter with a big gap, (so) we don’t take any risks. I’m quite happy about my performance and also to be patient all the way.”
Austin “A.J.” Jones also was a Dakar Rally champion for the second year in a row but in a different class. After winning the T4 SSV category in 2022, Jones, 26, moved into T3 lightweight prototype with the Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team USA. The Phoenix, Arizona, native beat teammate Seth Quintero by 52 minutes, becoming the first American to win Dakar titles in consecutive years.
Jones got “stressed about the mud” when he lost four-wheel drive before the stage began.
“Obviously I’m super stoked,” he said. “The last stage was pretty tough. With two-wheel drive, it got crazy, but we made it through. We knew we just had to finish.
“This has been the toughest Dakar that I have ever done. We’ve had ups and downs, but we just stayed consistent, did our thing and look at us. Back to back, huh? We’re super happy, big shout-out to all the team, my navigator, Gustavo, did a good job. It was a nice little road trip around Saudi Arabia. I can’t think about next year now, but I’ll be back.”
— DAKAR RALLY (@dakar) January 15, 2023
In his third Dakar start, Quintero, 20, was happy to complete every kilometer behind the wheel for the first time. Though running out of fuel in Stage 4 “cost us the win,” the Southern California native was pleased with his performance.
“I’m happy to be on the podium and drive under my own power and through every stage of Dakar, which feels absolutely amazing,” he said. “We’ve only got 350 days until next year, so it’s time to get back to work.”
A few other notes on American competitors:
–Morrison Hart became the first American-born rider to finish the Original by Motul class, which is considered Darkar’s most grueling category. Hart finished 15th in the category and 85th overall. David Pearson, Kyle McCoy, Paul Neff and James Pearson also rode in Original by Motul this year.
“I feel amazing,” Hart said. “Today was really sketchy and so slick. I was doing 120 km/h and brought it home. It’s been amazing, been life-changing. I’m already thinking about next year. My team gave me a great bike, and I’m so thankful to finish.”
–Pablo Copetti, an Argentine who competes under the U.S. flag, finished third in the Quad category. Petr Vlcek, a Czech-born rider who lives in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, finished eighth in the Original by Motul (59th overall in the bike category).
NBC Sports’ daily 6:30 p.m. ET coverage of the 2023 Dakar Rally will conclude tonight on Peacock’s NBC Sports channel.
Here are the stage winners and the final top three in the overall rankings for each category (along with U.S. notables) after Stage 14 ended the 2023 Dakar Rally:
Stage 14 winner: Guerlain Chicherit (FRA), GCK Motorsport, 1:09:24
Final top three rankings: 1. Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT), Toyota Gazoo Racing, 45:03:15; 2. Sebastien Loeb (FRA), Bahrain Raid Xtreme, 46:24:04; 3. Lucas Moraes (BRA), Overdrive Racing, 46:41:46.
Stage 14 winner: Kevin Benavides (ARG), Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, 1:15:17
Final top three rankings: 1. Kevin Benavides (ARG), Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, 44:27:20; 2.Toby Price (AUS), Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, 44:28:03 ; 3. Skyler Howes (USA), Husqvarna Factory Racing, 44:32:24. U.S. notables: 22. Jacob Argubright, Duust Co Rally Team, 48:49:16; 48. Pablo Copetti, Del Amo Motorsports, 58:37:25; 59. Petr Vlcek, Detyens Racing, 61:45:17; 85. Morrison Hart, American Rally Originals, 85:45:15. Withdrawal (excluded): Kyle McCoy (USA), American Rally Originals; David Pearson (USA), American Rally Originals; Lawrence Ace Nilson (USA), Duust Rally Team. Withdrew: Ricky Brabec (USA), Monster Energy Honda, 9:42:49; Paul Neff, American Rally Originals, 61:36:48; James Pearson, American Rally Originals, 134:55:21; Mason Klein (USA), BAS world KTM Racing Team, 41:42:34.
Stage 14 winner: Laisvydas Kancius (LTU), Story Racing S.R.O., 1:36:16
Final top three rankings: 1. Alexandre Giroud (FRA), Yamaha Racing, 56:44:30; 2. Francisco Moreno Flores (ARG), Dragon, 57:27:41; 3. Pablo Copetti (USA), Del Amo Motorsports, 58:37:25.
T3 lightweight prototype
Stage 14 winner: Cristina Gutierrez Herrero (ESP), Red Bull Can-Am Factory Team, 1:18:01
Final top three rankings: 1. Austin “A.J.” Jones (USA), Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team, 51:55:53; 2. Seth Quintero (USA), Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team, 52:47:58; 3. Guillaume De Mevius (BEL), Grally Team, 52:31:35. U.S. notable: 23. Mitch Guthrie, Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team, 79:54:01.
Stage 14 winner: Carlos Vento Sanchez (ESP), Patriots Racing Team, 1:21:54
Final top three rankings: 1. Eryk Goczal (POL), Energylandia Rally Team, 53:10:14; 2. Rokas Baciuska (LTU), Red Bull Can-Am Factory Team, 53:26:58; 3. Marek Goczal (POL), Energylandia Rally Team, 53:28:29.
Stage 14 winner: Vaidotas Paskevicius (LTU), Fesh Fesh Team, 1:18:34
Final top three rankings: 1. Janus Van Kastren (NLD), Boss Machinery Team De Rooy Iveco, 54:03:33; 2. Martin Macik (CZE), MM Technology, 55:18:07; 3. Martin Van Den Brink (NLD), Eurol Team De Rooy Iveco, 56:43:55.
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STAGE 12: Toby Price takes overall bike lead
STAGE 13: Top three riders separated by 91 seconds
SKYLER HOWES’ SPIRITUAL QUEST: American rider takes a gratifying road to overall lead
U.S. EXCELS IN ‘OLYMPICS OF OFF ROAD’: American T3 drivers stay on charge for Red Bull
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CARRYING THE FLAG: U.S. drivers and riders in the 2023 Dakar Rally