Husqvarna Factory Racing’s Skyler Howes leads the 2023 Dakar Rally at the close of the first week of racing. Although times at the top of the leaderboard are close, Howes has delivered solid, consistent performances throughout the event so far, which has seen him slowly climb the ranks, right to the top. Luciano Benavides has also enjoyed a solid first week of racing, overcoming a couple of small errors early in the race to go on and secure a career-first stage win. The Argentine lies 11th with six stages left to race.
In what many are calling one of the toughest Dakar Rallies for decades, riders have faced close to 5,700 kilometres of riding, with almost 3,000 raced against the clock over a wide variety of terrain. That challenge, mixed in with technically demanding navigation and horrendous weather conditions, has made the 45th running of the event one to remember.
Relaxing on rest day, Husqvarna Factory Racing now look ahead to week two and the six stages that take the race to the finish line in Dammam on January 15. Holding a narrow 13-second lead in the overall standings, Skyler Howes will be looking to take maximum advantage of his later start position for Tuesday’s stage nine – another day billed to deliver unforgiving terrain and complicated navigation.
Joining Howes in the chase tomorrow, Luciano Benavides will also be looking to use the speed that took him to the stage win on day six to hunt down his rivals, post a strong stage result, and climb his way up the RallyGP leaderboard. Currently lying 11th, 24 minutes down on his teammate, the number 77 will be aiming to reduce that deficit over the next couple of days.
Skyler Howes: “The first eight days at the Dakar this year have certainly been very challenging. For me, I’d say it’s been one of the harder Dakars in recent history, partly because of the sheer time on the bike and the kilometres we’ve covered, but also because those long stages have been held over really rough and varied terrain. To make it to rest day is super important, that’s rule number one for sure. Up to rest day we’ve almost covered the same distance as the whole of last year, so that puts things into perspective. I think the hard work the team have put in all year is evident here as we’re leading the overall, but we still have a full week of racing left to do. I’m happy to lead the overall but there’s still a long way to go.”
Luciano Benavides: “It’s been a bit of an up-and-down first eight days for me. Obviously to take my first stage win felt incredible, that was like a dream come true, but then it meant opening stage eight, which has to have been one of the toughest to lead out into. I also made a couple of mistakes earlier on in the week, which cost me some time. I’m happy with how I’m riding, and the bike is performing so well, I just need to stay focused now going into the second week. Hopefully we’ll get a lot more dunes and tricky navigation, so that the times are shaken up a little and I’ll have a good chance to attack the stages and work my way back up the standings. I know I have the pace, so I’ll keep on pushing.”
Norbert Stadlbauer – Rally Team Manager: “Our Husqvarna riders were among the favourites for the race starting off. And with Luciano’s stage win and Skyler leading the overall, they have clearly demonstrated they are in the fight for the win. The first week has seen approximately 70 percent of the race completed, and after Tuesday’s stage nine, the timed specials are far shorter. The team are ready to attack each one and take the fight for the win to the finish.”
2023 Dakar – Provisional Overall Classification [After Stage 8]
1. Skyler Howes (Husqvarna) 30:34:16
2. Kevin Benavides (KTM) 30:34:29
3. Mason Klein (KTM) 30:34:29
4. Toby Price (KTM) 30:36:14
5. Pablo Quintanilla (Honda) 30:37:01
6. Adrien Van Beveren (Honda) 30:37:05
11. Luciano Benavides (Husqvarna) 30:58:48