Skyler Howes (bike) and Austin “A.J.” Jones (T3 light prototype) moved into the lead of their categories after Stage 11 of the 2023 Dakar Rally, raising the likelihood of an American champion.
In its 45-year history, the Dakar Rally has had only one year with multiple U.S. champions. In 2020, Ricky Brabec (bike) became the first American to win a title in Dakar history and Casey Currie was crowned in side by sides.
With a fifth place Thursday, Jones (who hails from the Phoenix, Arizona, area) moved into the overall lead by 55 minutes, 54 seconds over Red Bull Off-Road Team USA teammate Seth Quintero with three stages remaining.
Guillaume De Mevius had entered with a nearly 8-minute lead but finished Stage 11 in third overall after losing more than 90 minutes during the marathon stage.
After winning the T4 SSV championship last year, Jones is in good position for his second consecutive Dakar Rally title.
“Definitely a good day for me,” Jones, 26, said. “I didn’t know any of the results, but just now they’ve told me I’m No. 1, so I’m happy about that. For sure, it’s a good thing. That’s the kind of racing that we do, especially on the Dakar, everything changes fast. Anything can happen in these three days, but for now we’re in a good spot, so I’m happy.
“The strategy for the next three days is just to keep it moving and try not to have any big problems. We can lose a couple of minutes here and there, but we really need no big problems and we’ll be all right.”
After winning Stage 10, Quintero, 20, finished fourth Thursday.
“It was a long stage in the dunes, and today was one of the days we just wanted to survive,” the Southern California native said. “We toned it back a lot from yesterday.”
In the bike category, Skyler Howes retook the overall lead by 28 seconds over Toby Price with a fourth in Stage 11 despite losing some time by getting stuck in a few dunes and searching for a waypoint.
“The stage was really fast, also with lots of dunes, really big dunes too,” said Howes, the Utah resident trying to become only the second American to win the bike category. “I felt the rhythm pretty good and had a good pace going. There were a couple of small little mistakes that slowed me down a bit, but it actually puts me in a good position for tomorrow, and the bike’s overall in really good condition. We’ll see what tomorrow has in store for us.
“There wasn’t much separating us out there today. I know the times were super close. All it’s going to do is to be tight going all the way in to the finish, which is super exciting.”
Mason Klein, the U.S. rider who has been mentored by Howes, slipped to ninth overall after finishing 27th, his worst result of the 2023 Dakar Rally. Klein, 21, said he has been bothered by injuries in earlier stages that have taken a toll.
“It was really hard to ride today from the crashes I had earlier in the week,” he said. “They really make it difficult.
“I feel like I’m not tired, but my head just hurts to hold it up. I hope I can rest now.”
In the car category, Sebastien Loeb won his fourth consecutive stage, but Nasser Al-Attiyah was fifth and maintained an overall lead by 1 hour, 21 minutes, 4 seconds.
“Today we did an amazing stage with no mistakes,” said Al-Attiyah, who is closing in on his fifth Dakar Rally championship. “Everything is going very well and just now we are trying to check everything to get ready for tomorrow. We need to accept this situation, because we don’t need to attack for nothing. We still have too many hours to do. We try to do our best because tomorrow is so important. Today we just needed to finish.”
NBC Sports’ daily 6:30 p.m. ET coverage of the 2023 Dakar Rally will continue tonight on Peacock’s NBC Sports channel.
NEXT: Another marathon stage covering 375 kilometers (185 against the clock in the special) from the Empty Quarter back to Shaybah. Stage 12 will be a tactical test of treading a fine line between staying up front without exceeding the limits in the dunes.
Here are the stage winners and the top three in the overall rankings for each category (along with U.S. notables) after Stage 11 of the 2023 Dakar Rally:
Stage 11 winner: Sebastien Loeb (FRA), Bahrain Raid Xtreme, 2:56:14
General rankings: 1. Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT), Toyota Gazoo Racing, 39:16:33; 2. Lucas Moraes (BRA), Overdrive Racing, 40:37:37; 3. Sebastien Loeb (FRA), Bahrain Raid Xtreme, 40:47:14.
Stage 11 winner: Luciano Benavides (ARG), Husqvarna Factory Racing, 2:57:59
General rankings: 1. Skyler Howes (USA), Husqvarna Factory Racing, 38:47:43; 2. Toby Price (AUS), Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, 38:48:11; 3. Kevin Benavides (ARG), Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, 38:50:27. U.S. notables: 9. Mason Klein (USA), BAS world KTM Racing Team, 39:32:28; 24. Jacob Argubright, Duust Co Rally Team, 42:43:17; 50. Pablo Copetti, Del Amo Motorsports, 50:39:14; 61. Petr Vlcek, Detyens Racing, 53:31:05; 90. Morrison Hart, American Rally Originals, 73:46:50; 96. James Pearson, American Rally Originals, 134:55:21. Withdrawal (excluded): Kyle McCoy (USA), American Rally Originals; David Pearson (USA), American Rally Originals; Lawrence Ace Nilson (USA), Duust Rally Team. Withdrew: Ricky Brabec (USA), Monster Energy Honda, 9:42:49; Paul Neff, American Rally Originals, 61:36:48.
Stage 11 winner: Marcelo Medeiros (BRA), Taguatur Racing Team, 3:50:47
General rankings: 1. Alexandre Giroud (FRA), Yamaha Racing, 48:31:56; 2. Francisco Moreno Flores (ARG), Dragon, 49:52:19; 3. Pablo Copetti (USA), Del Amo Motorsports, 50:39:14.
T3 light prototype
Stage 11 winner: Ricardo Porem (PRT), X-Raid Yamaha Supported Team, 3:19:11
General rankings: 1. Austin “A.J.” Jones (USA), Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team, 45:19:15; 2. Seth Quintero (USA), Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team, 46:15:09; 3. Guillaume De Mevius (BEL), Grally Team, 46:47:34. U.S. notable: 27. Mitch Guthrie, Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team, 73:17:19.
Stage 11 winner: 1. Rokas Baciuska (LTU), Red Bull Can-Am Factory Team, 3:25:13
General rankings: 1. Rokas Baciuska (LTU), Red Bull Can-Am Factory Team, 46:42:42; 2. Eryk Goczal (POL), Energylandia Rally Team, 46:46:59; 3. Marek Goczal (POL), Energylandia Rally Team, 46:57:00.
Stage 11 winner: Martin Van Den Brink (NLD), Eurol Team De Rooy Iveco, 3:39:52
General rankings: 1. Janus Van Kastren (NLD), Boss Machinery Team De Rooy Iveco, 47:02:12; 2. Martin Van Den Brink (NLD), Eurol Team De Rooy Iveco, 47:03:24; 3. Martin Macik (CZE), MM Technology, 47:49:58.
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