Friday, July 19, 2024

2023 Sonora Rally: Daniel Sanders scores maiden W2RC RallyGP victory

Daniel SandersWorld Rally-Raid Championship hopes took a hit when he was forced to sit out the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge due to an elbow injury he re-aggravated at the Dakar Rally, but he did not need long to re-insert himself back into the RallyGP battle as he won his first race back at the Sonora Rally.

After finishing runner-up to Tosha Schareina in Stage #1 by six seconds, Sanders responded by beating him the next day by a bigger margin of over a minute. Sanders went on to win two more stages to increase his lead, though Schareina continued to keep it close as the only competition within six minutes entering the final day. Sanders instead hit the final nail into the coffin by taking Stage #5 and increasing that margin to eight minutes.

The victory is Sanders’ first in W2RC after missing much of the inaugural season in 2022 the aforementioned elbow injury sustained in that year’s Dakar Rally. He made his return at the following edition but medical problems plagued his run before sidelining him at Abu Dhabi.

“It’s great to get my first rally win. It feels like it’s been a long time coming,” said Sanders. “Obviously after a year off, it’s great to be back where I want to be. Dakar’s the big one but getting wins in the world championship is also super important.

“I’ve had some bad luck with speed penalties and things like that in some events, so to finally get a world championship win means a lot to me. I feel like I’ve ridden well this event, leading out on several days, and generally having a good run through the event. After a year out and then getting sick at Dakar, it’s all heading in the right direction. I’m improving still, and thanks to the team who always give me a great bike I feel like things are really coming together now.”

While falling short of the win, Schareina has every reason to be happy as he wraps up his maiden race with Honda with a runner-up, which was highlighted by stunning the field with a Stage #1 victory. Schareina had switched from KTM to Honda in the weeks leading up to Sonora, riding as a privateer with a bike and support from their Monster Energy factory team; a similar arrangement took place at Dakar for Joan Barreda, who also scored a stage win there for the Honda allies.

Schareina is not racing for the W2RC, meaning third-placed Luciano Benavides officially finished second in context of the championship. He had also placed runner-up at Abu Dhabi, and the back-to-back runs move him from fourth to second in the standings.

Benavides held off Toby Price for the final spot on the overall podium by just over two minutes. After a poor start to the rally as a navigational error caused him to finish second to last in Stage #1, Price tried to claw his way back up by winning Stage #4 before yet another error on the final day caused him to lose a shot at third. Nevertheless, a podium among W2RC riders helps him maintain the points lead with a seven-point edge over Benavides.

While Schareina was Honda’s brightest star, his new friends at Monster Energy Honda Rally Team struggled. Abu Dhabi winner Adrien Van Beveren was the factory programme’s best finisher in sixth, while four-time Sonora Rally champion Ricky Brabec was eighth and had received a fifteen-minute time penalty for an engine change.

“The outcome of the race was not the one we wanted, since we arrived here after winning the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge,” stated Monster Energy HRC general manager Ruben Faria. “Anyway this was a new race and a new experience and we didn’t fit well. On the other hand I am happy because all riders reached the end without any injuries.”

Benavides’ brother and Dakar winner Kevin Benavides finished twelfth of fifteen total riders in his first race back from a broken femur.

Sam Sunderland and Skyler Howes, respectively the team-mates to Sanders and Luciano Benavides, both crashed out on Stage #2. Sunderland hurt his knee in his wreck, which he attributed to realising the path did not match the roadbook too late, while Howes suffered a particularly gnarly accident in which he hit a compression and was briefly shot airbourne before dropping down a hole that flung him into a cactus. Howes, the reigning Sonora winner, fractured multiple scapula, tore a rotator cuff, and suffered some shoulder muscle damage.

“It’s hard to find the right words to explain my feelings about the situation where I’ve crashed in Mexico,” wrote Sunderland. All three of his W2RC starts in 2023 have ended with accidents that resulted in injury, with Abu Dhabi’s occurring just days before the race began. “As a team and as a rider we spend energy, effort and a lot of investment to follow a world championship series at our highest level of professionalism, I find it a big shame that we aren’t met with the same, I race off road and know the risks / responsibility that are associated with it and accept a big part of my job is reading the terrain in front of me, however to fight to win we must also put a lot of trust in the Roadbook, especially when on a fast gravel track at 160kmh with vision at that speed not perfect you can imagine my surprise when I have arrived to the road being completely washed away and nothing in the Roadbook to warn us, I have seen it very late, tried to brake but had a massive crash and feel lucky to walk out of it with just a bad knee and wrists.

“I hope this can be a lesson for future races that this type of mistake can end in disaster and there needs to be some procedures in place to avoid it happening again.”

RallyGP overall results

Finish Number Rider Team Time Margin
1 18 Daniel Sanders Red Bull GasGas Factory Racing 11:01:09 Leader
2 68 Tosha Schareina* Honda Team 11:09:32 + 8:23
3 77 Luciano Benavides Husqvarna Factory Racing 11:18:25 + 17:16
4 8 Toby Price Red Bull KTM Factory Racing 11:20:52 + 19:43
5 52 Matthias Walkner Red Bull KTM Factory Racing 11:24:09 + 23:00
6 42 Adrien Van Beveren Monster Energy Honda Rally Team 11:28:23 + 27:14
7 16 Ross Branch Hero MotoSports 11:31:16 + 30:07
8 2 Ricky Brabec Monster Energy Honda Rally Team 11:33:01 + 31:52
9 7 Pablo Quintanilla Monster Energy Honda Rally Team 11:37:42 + 37:33
10 14 Sebastian Bühler Hero MotoSports 11:42:10 + 41:01
11 11 José Ignacio Cornejo Monster Energy Honda Rally Team 11:47:09 + 46:00
12 47 Kevin Benavides Red Bull KTM Factory Racing 11:47:58 + 46:49
13 9 Mason Klein BAS World KTM Racing Team 12:31:29 + 1:30:20
DNF 1 Sam Sunderland Red Bull GasGas Factory Racing DNF N/A
DNF 10 Skyler Howes Husqvarna Factory Racing DNF N/A
* – Not competing in World Rally-Raid Championship

RallyGP stage winners

Stage Rider Time
Prologue Toby Price 43:44
Stage #1 Tosha Schareina* 1:33:25
Stage #2 Daniel Sanders 1:28:08
Stage #3 Daniel Sanders 3:25:08
Stage #4 Toby Price 2:33:21
Stage #5 Daniel Sanders 1:14:01

Overall winners

Class Number Competitor Team Time
T1 201 Nasser Al-Attiyah Toyota Gazoo Racing 10:29:55
T3 302 Mitch Guthrie Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team 11:17:24
T4 400 Rokas Baciuška Red Bull Can-Am Factory Racing 11:51:05
RallyGP 18 Daniel Sanders Red Bull GasGas Factory Racing 11:01:09
Rally2 17 Romain Dumontier HT Rally Raid Husqvarna Racing 11:48:21
Rally3 57 Massimo Camurri Freedom Rally Racing 15:59:16
Quad 162 Laisvydas Kancius AG Dakar School 15:33:14
National Car/UTV 605 Sara Price* SP Motorsports 17:14:04
National Enduro 513 Brendan Crow* Brendan Crow 16:37:36
National Malle Moto 501 Matt Sutherland* Matt Sutherland 18:24:08

W2RC RallyGP standings

Rank Rider Points Margin
1 Toby Price 62 Leader
2 Luciano Benavides 55 – 7
3 Adrien Van Beveren 53 – 9
4 Kevin Benavides 43 – 19
5 Daniel Sanders 39 – 23
6 Skyler Howes 34 – 28
7 José Ignacio Cornejo 31 – 31
8 Ross Branch 29 – 33
9 Pablo Quintanilla 28 – 34
10 Ricky Brabec 18 – 44
11 Sebastian Bühler 16 – 46
12 Matthias Walkner 13 – 49
13 Franco Caimi 11 – 51
14 Mason Klein 4 – 58
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