- The 10-kilometer prologue held this afternoon —a unique feature of the W2RC— gave the ten fastest riders of the FIM RallyGP and FIA classes the chance to pick their starting order for tomorrow.
- The Rally2 rider Bradley Cox (BAS World KTM Racing) sprang a surprise in the motorbike race by outspeeding all the RallyGP contenders. The South African clinched the win ahead of Toby Price (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) and Luciano Benavides (Husqvarna Factory Racing).
- Yazeed Al Rajhi (Overdrive Racing) edged out Nasser Al Attiyah (Toyota Gazoo Racing) by a second to win the car prologue. Guerlain Chicherit and Sébastien Loeb’s two Hunters finished behind the two Toyotas.
FIM: Toby Price chooses to start sixth tomorrow
On a 1-kilometer drag strip, which was as hot as it was slippery, followed by 9 kilometers off road, Bradley Cox made a statement in the prologue. The Rally2 rider clocked the fastest time (5′26″) ahead of Toby Price (5′28″) and Luciano Benavides (5′33″). As per the 2023 W2RC rules, only the RallyGP riders get to choose their starting order for the next day, so Cox will start tomorrow in sixteenth position, behind the last RallyGP entrant. The ten fastest in this category picked their spots as the sun began to dip under the horizon. They all chose places from the top 5 onwards, leaving the slower riders of the day to open the stage. Nacho Cornejo (Monster Energy Honda), Mason Klein (BAS World KTM Racing), Sebastian Bühler (Hero MotoSports), and Sam Sunderland (Red Bull GasGas Factory Racing) had no say in it and will start in this same order. Skyler Howes (Husqvarna Factory Racing) will be fifth, ahead of Toby Price in sixth, who picked this spot last because he reckoned it was the best. Ricky Brabec (Monster Energy Honda) will take off seventh, Luciano Benavides eighth, Van Beveren ninth, Tosha Schareina (Honda Team) tenth, Ross Branch (Hero MotoSports) eleventh, Kevin Benavides (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) twelfth, Daniel Sanders (Red Bull GasGas Factory Racing) thirteenth, Pablo Quintanilla (Monster Energy Honda) fourteenth, and Matthias Walkner (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) fifteenth.
Ruben Faria, the manager of the Monster Energy Honda team, no stranger to prologue strategies, downplayed the significance of the choice: “The prologue always has a role in the competition. Maybe this time the advantage for the riders in the Top 10 is not so important since there will probably be a lot of dust in the air.”
Bradley Cox dominated the Rally2 prologue ahead of two returning competitors, Romain Dumontier (HT Rally Raid Husqvarna Racing, 6′02″) and Konrad Dąbrowski (Duust Diverse Racing, 6′15″). The new Kove Racing rider, Neels Theric, finished fourth (6′16″), ahead of the championship leader, Paolo Lucci (BAS World KTM Racing, 6′31″). The leader of the provisional standings, Laisvydas Kancius (6′55″), beat Rodolfo Guillioli (7′51″) in the quad race.
FIA: Al Rajhi still on a roll
The winner of the previous round in Abu Dhabi, Yazeed Al Rajhi (5′18″), kept the momentum going by winning the prologue by a second over Nasser Al Attiyah. Guerlain Chicherit (5′22″) and Sébastien Loeb (5′28″) followed at the wheels of their Prodrive Hunters. The Frenchman, perched at the top of the championship, reached the bivouac towed by the Hilux no. 200 of his arch-rival. Mathieu Baumel posted a video on social media showing the fair play of their gesture, ending with a close-up of their dashboard displaying the image of the Hunter on the tow. It was an early close shave for Loeb, who is used to mechanical mishaps at the start of the race. No real harm done. He will be leading the charge in tomorrow’s special. The Frenchman found himself catapulted to the front after the choice of starting order, followed by his teammate Guerlain Chicherit. Toyota’s Nasser Al Attiyah and Yazeed Al Rajhi, the last to choose, preferred to have the French duo open the road and picked third and fourth place, respectively. Sebastián Halpern (X-raid Mini JCW) will start fifth.
In T3, Mitch Guthrie Junior (Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team USA, 5′45″) narrowly beat João Ferreira (X-raid Yamaha), who crossed the finish line in the same second. Mattias Ekström (South Racing Can-Am, 5′47″) came in third, ahead of Seth Quintero (Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team USA, 5′50″) and “Chaleco” López (Red Bull Can-Am Factory, 5′56″) in the Chilean’s return to the competition. The top 3 will start tomorrow in this same order from the seventh to the ninth position. Their times in the prologue placed them in the top 10 of the day, so they were invited to the starting order selection protocol and will start with the T1+ cars at the front of the stage. In T4, the other works Can-Am driver, Rokas Baciuška, hit the ground running with a dominant victory in 6′00″.
Stage 1: a tale with a sting
The 61-strong W2RC caravan is now gearing up for the next 5 stages, in which the vast majority of the riders and crews racing alongside the 54 National vehicles will take a leap into the unknown. In this scenario, the rally-raid skills of adapting to different situations will be crucial. Stéphane Peterhansel‘s former co-driver, Jean-Paul Cottret, who has been opening the road in the Dakar since 2020 and in the W2RC since its inception, reveals the Jean-Paul Cottret (W2RC navigator): “The first change W2RC regulars will notice are the cacti, which are part of the scenery, but also a hazard for the bikers, the quads, and even the SSVs because it’s not unusual for them to be really close to the track. The bikes could end up covered in bits of the infamous ‘jumping cacti’, which know how to fight back! There are also a lot of fences with gate crossings. We’re used to them in Spain, with the bajas, or in Andalusia, when the W2RC paid a visit. They’re mostly in stage 1, which also features some dust in areas of fesh-fesh that will make an impression. The terrain in the following stages is rather open, with a sandier soil and nice big bowls of varying width, bigger than what we’re used to. To make matters worse, the speeds are also higher because there are more straight lines here. Meanwhile, the T1+ cars will be in their element because here the habit is to drive with the same 37-inch wheels and a large suspension travel. The tracks are marked, but the plants grow back in no time and can easily hide the tracks. The lion’s share of the navigation will consist of not losing sight of the tracks. It’s all too easy to get lost among the cacti, where the tracks are so faint, and have to double back. Riders would be ill-advised to be stubborn and risk getting stuck. My advice? Don’t be reckless.”
Stage 1 (Hermosillo–Hermosillo) – road section: 165 km / SS: 168 km / Total: 333 km
– First FIM start: 7:30 am
– First FIA start: 9 am