Youth was served in a big way as the 2023 Dakar Rally reached its conclusion, with two weeks worth of grueling tests through Saudi Arabia concluding with 136 final kilometers of special stage in the trek from Al-Hofuf to Dammam. When all was said and done, it was 26-year-old American AJ Jones who took top honors in the T3 Lightweight Prototype class, while Eryk Goczal earned his first Dakar victory in T4 SSV in his first try at just 18 years old.
Jones now has two Dakar triumphs in two classes over the past two years, vacating last year’s T4 title to take on the T3 class alongside Mitch Guthrie Jr. and Seth Quintero on the Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team. He took over the category lead earlier this week at the start of the Empty Quarter Marathon stage, as mechanical troubles for Guillaume De Mevius dropped him from about ten minutes ahead of Jones to a distant third.
Quintero made it a 1-2 for the Red Bull squad, trading in his 12 stage wins in 13 tries but major issues on the 13th day last year for a much more consistent run that kept him within an hour of the lead at race’s end. Instead, it was Guthrie who played Quintero’s former role, scoring stage win after stage win despite first-week issues knocking him out of the overall hunt. Behind De Mevius, Stage 14 winner Cristina Gutierrez and defending class winner Chaleco Lopez completed the top five.
Goczal, who raced alongside his father Marek and brother Michal, kicked off this year’s Dakar as its youngest stage winner of all time. The Goczal family won more than half of this year’s stages in T4, but it was only Eryk who had a real chance at dethroning leader Rokas Baciuska on the final day. Eryk would only finish eighth on stage, but Baciuska would give up more than 23 minutes to stage winner Carlos Vento Sanchez, dropping him to 16:44 behind Goczal in the final rankings. Marek Goczal would join his son on the overall podium in third overall.
2023 Dakar Rally Stage 14 winners were as follows:
- Lightweight Prototype: Cristina Gutierrez, 1:18:01
- SSV: Carlos Vento Sanchez, 1:21:54
2023 Dakar Rally class winners are as follows:
- Lightweight Prototype: AJ Jones, 51:55:53
- SSV: Eryk Goczal, 53:10:14
Start-to-finish coverage of the 2023 Dakar Rally is available on demand from Peacock. The W2RC, of which the Dakar is the first of five rounds, continues with the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge on February 25-March 2.