Dakar Rally Report: Week 1

Skyler Howes leads the pack at the Dakar Rally. Here, he crests a dune on Stage 5. Credit: Husqvarna

We’re a week into the 2023 Dakar Rally, currently running through Saudi Arabia. Here’s a quick overview of the story so far in the bike category (if you want an overview of this year’s route, see our preview story here).

America first!

While other riders have been putting in incredible efforts and race times, the race so far has been about American riders Mason Klein and Skyler Howes. Klein is in his second Dakar race, his first in the RallyGP class, and he is kicking everyone’s butts as a member of the Bas World privateer squad. Unfortunately for him (fortunately for everyone else!), rally org staff gave him water-contaminated gas at a refuelling stop, which cost him considerable time—time which the organizers won’t give him back, despite the fact that it’s utter and completely their fault.

To make it more infuriating, this was also a problem last year in Saudi Arabia, a desert country that refines a lot of gasoline. How are the organizers letting crappy fuel into the race, then? Maybe… they just don’t care?

Anyway. Klein’s bad luck is Howes’ good luck. Skyler Howes now has a factory Husqvarna ride, and is currently atop the standings. This could be his year, and if so, he’s earned it. Howes sold almost everything he owned a couple of years ago, in order to finance his Dakar effort as a privateer. He earned his factory ride that year, and now he’s showing that Husky made a good choice.

However, both those Americans do face stiff competition in the second half of the race. Their fellow countryman Ricky Brabec is out of the race (he binned his Honda and had to medevac by helo, then by car, thanks to bad weather). However, Daniel Sanders, a youngster on the GasGas squad (and the sole remaining member, since defending champ Sam Sunderland crashed out), is a potential winner. Toby Price looks like he could push his KTM to the front with a bit of hard work and good luck. And of course, there are plenty of strong riders aboard Honda even without Brabec in the race.

Canada’s still in it!

A few days back, we told you about Gareth Jones, the sole Canadian entry this year. Jones is still in it, although he’s back a bit in the standings. We’ll keep you posted; we hope to have an interview with him when he returns from Saudi Arabia!

The Chinese effort

While there have been Chinese teams in bike category in the past, none has done very well. Chinese teams have always been plagued by poor equipment and lack of seriousness from management. This year, though, things look different.

In December, we told you about the Kove 450 Rally, a made-in-China rally bike being offered at consumer-friendly prices. Turns out that Kove actually ran a contest in China to select three riders to race its bikes at the Dakar Rally. So far, those three riders are still in the race, and one of them is moving up the standings. Could this be the year that China finally arrives at Dakar? Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that nobody took Hero seriously, and now Hero has top-rate riders signed and its bikes are becoming more and more competitive.

The 2023 Dakar Rally sees bike racing resume on January 8 for Stage 8 (Stage 7 was canceled  for bikes and quads due to weather). Your best bet for daily updates is the official YouTube channel here.

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