The first big motorsport event of the year is yet again throwing curveballs and creating drama as the world watches on with intrigue. As many conclude their holiday season, the 2023 Dakar Rally is winding its way across Saudi Arabia, and the scenery is as beautiful as it is brutal. While the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team is preparing for the second half of the race, we have taken a look at the stats and the pictures from the last week of competition.

By Jen Braithwaite

An incredible image of the first Bivouac, the moving paddock, at Sea Camp on the West side of the country. PC: Eric Vargiolu

After eight stages, one of which (stage 7) was cancelled due to adverse weather, we’ve seen elation, emerging talent, defiance and disaster amongst the top-ranking riders and with just over 20 minutes separating the top 10, there’s everything to play for after today’s rest day in Riyadh (January 9).

A victory in the prologue for Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Toby Price was the kick-off for this year’s event, and the Australian, along with teammates Matthias Walkner and Kevin Benavides enjoyed a strong start in the opening stage with the KTM 450 RALLY. There was no warm-up though, as a daunting and incredibly tough Stage 2 caught out some of the very best riders, with Benavides describing it as ‘possibly the hardest stage he’s ridden in the last three years of Dakar.’  It was 430 kilometers and nearly six hours of some really tough, rocky tracks through difficult riverbeds and more; it’s sure that the mental intensity to try to ride ‘fast’ in those conditions without making mistakes was just as tough as the physical drain of the hours on the bike.

Kevin Benavides described Stage 2 as ‘one of the most difficult’ in the last years of Dakar. PC: RallyZone

In contrast stage three was described by Walkner as ‘one of the most beautiful stages’ he’s ever ridden, although the Austrian has been battling an injury he picked up in the second stage and has valiantly fought on to be 10th in the standings going into the rest day.

Price was collected up in a fellow competitor’s crash on stage five, but he and Argentinian racer Benavides have maintained consistent results to be at the halfway point in relatively good shape. Maximum concentration in the desert dunes and across the slippery rocks has been required, but in this race it’s that consistency, and strategy, that pays off.

Matthias Walkner said Stage 3 was had some of the most beautiful scenery he’d encountered. PC: RallyZone

Coming into the much-needed rest day where riders re-group ready for the second half of the race, Benavides is second in the standings, just 13 seconds from the lead, while Price is fourth and only 1:58 back. It’s tight at the top. A mention for KTM-supported Mason Klein who has done an incredible job so far to be third in the rankings with a stage win on the second day in that super-tough stony stage, and has taken a number of top three finishes. Not much has been said so far about the new bonus offered for winning a stage, or the A & B routes, which are new for this year’s rules, but we’re sure that the second week will bring as many thrills as the first as the riders enter some of the most untouched areas on earth in the ‘Empty Quarter’.

The contrasting conditions of Dakar have made it incredibly challenging so far – Benavides pictured on Stage 4 of the rally. PC: Eric Vargiolu

The facts so far:

  • Price won the Prologue
  • Stage two was incredibly punishing with six hours of tough rocks to battle through
  • Stage three was incredibly beautiful
  • The variation in terrain has been as punishing as ever
  • Stage 7 was cancelled due to adverse weather
  • Three KTMs in the top five at the rest day
  • Walkner battling through a wrist injury to be 10th by the rest day
  • Over 30 hours of racing time completed
  • 3395.01 km completed
  • Eight different winners of the eight days contested (including the prologue)
  • Riders now head to the ‘Empty Quarter’ as they ride east through the country
Another incredible image from Stage 3 with Toby Price. PC: RallyZone

Matthias Walkner loads his roadbook. The Austrian is battling a wrist injury from the second stage. PC: RallyZone

Take a close look and you’ll see Kevin Benavides battling the sand on Stage six of the rally. PC: DPPI

Short sleeps and long days – Benavides in the dark with his KTM 450 RALLY. PC: Julien Delfosse

It’s unbelievable to see the difference in terrain – Benavides on Stage 8. He is second going into the rest day. PC: Eric Vargiolu

Being one of the first to lead the stage makes navigation even more intense amongst the dunes – here Price looks ahead on Stage 6. PC: RallyZone

KTM supported rider Mason Klein is third overall going into the rest day and won Stage 2. PC: RallyZone

Walkner blasts through the deep sand of Stage 4. PC: RallyZone

Toby Price is chased by the heli – the easiest way for crews to cover the Dakar given its vast length. PC: RallyZone

Benavides will need to maintain his focus for the second half of the race as he chases his second victory at the prestigious event. PC: Bastien_Roux_Photographie

The rocks on Stage 8 – Price is fourth heading into the rest day. PC: RallyZone