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Ross Branch Takes Victory On Stage Eight Of The 2023 Dakar Rally

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Photo of rally rider Ross Branch in the 2023 Dakar Rally stage six
Ross Branch finished Stage 8 in the fastest time, securing the second Dakar Stage win for himself, and for Hero MotoSports Team Rally.

Ross Branch has won stage eight of the 2023 Dakar Rally securing the second Dakar Stage win for himself, and for Hero MotoSports Team Rally, Daniel Sanders rebounded from illness to claim second ahead of Mason Klein.

For Hero MotoSports Team Rally, which entered rally racing only seven years ago, this is the second taste of victory, and in consecutive Dakar rallies, making it one of the flag-bearer of Indian motorsports. In 2022 it had become the first Indian manufacturer team ever to win a Stage at the Dakar.

“It’s amazing to be here! We worked really hard for it,” Branch said. “It has been a tough week, and I’m really happy to go into the rest day with a Stage Win. This morning I felt really good, the bike was excellent, and I decided to push as hard as I could. It was a good stage, the navigation was fine, and I thoroughly enjoyed it as I went all out and raced the whole thing! A big thank you to the team for all the amazing effort, and for not giving up on me. It’s a happy day, and hopefully we’ll gather some more wins next week!”

Perhaps the one racer benefitting the most from the cancelation of the timed special on Dakar stage seven was Australian Daniel Sanders. Able to replenish his energy levels a little more on Saturday, Chucky came out swinging on today’s stage eight to post the second-fastest time. But most importantly of all, Sanders chopped almost 12 minutes out of the current leader’s advantage in the provisional rally standings..

Photo of rally rider Daniel Sanders in the 2023 Dakar Rally stage eight
After battling with illness for the past few days, Aussie Daniel Sanders rebounded with the second fastest time and moved closer to the overall lead. Photo: RallyZone

“Damn it was pretty wet out there this morning! For the guys out first it must have been pretty bad, and navigating was tough because of the rain and sand on the goggles,” Sanders explained. “But overall, it’s been a good day. I was fortunate to get a bit of a recovery day yesterday, and I used that time to get some rest and I was able to keep what I ate and drank down, so coming into today things were a lot better. We have another rest day tomorrow, so I think going into next week we’ll be much closer to 100% and I’m excited for week two now that I’m feeling a lot more like myself.”

Photo of rally rider Klein Klein in the 2023 Dakar Rally stage six
American Mason Klein continues to impress and was fastest today but dropped to third after a speeding penalty.

American whiz kid Mason Klein is starting to rattle all his rivals. Klein thought he had it in the bag when he crossed the finish line, but the win went to the Botswanan Ross Branch, aware of the monster performance that he had just turned in and of his gains in the general standings, Klein was especially satisfied to take control of the race, as seen on the first classification sheets. However, a penalty for speeding stripped him of the win and restored his countryman and mentor Skyler Howes to the top of the overall motorbike classification halfway through the race.

Photo of rally rider Pablo Quintanilla in the 2023 Dakar Rally stage six
Pablo Quintanilla had a good day for Honda finishing fourth fastest. Photo: RallyZone

Chilean Pablo Quintanilla was once again the fastest Honda rider in fourth position, followed by teammate Adrian Van Beveren.

“We have reached the rest day after another long stage. I felt good along the way and managed to ride at a good speed and rhythm,” Quintanilla said. “Conditions were really hard with the cold weather and the long mileage of the stages making its effect on our fatigue. I think now we are in a good position for the second week of the rally. It is a fact that our category has evolved a lot and the rhythm is impressive but I feel strong and determined to push even harder in the days to come and attack.”

Photo of rally rider Adrien Van Beveren in the 2023 Dakar Rally stage eight
Adrien Van Beveren had another consistent day finishing fifth overall. Photo: RallyZone

For Van Beveren it was another good finish.

“This was another good stage,” the Frenchman reflected. “I decided to attack from the start because I knew it was a good moment to recover some time. It was not easy, especially in the first part where there were a lot of stones. Then we moved to faster tracks and I continued at a great pace. The outcome is good and now I am looking forward to the start of the last week of this Dakar Rally. If I could, I would skip the rest day and start tomorrow instead!”

Photo of rally rider Toby Price in the 2023 Dakar Rally stage eight
17th wasn’t the best day for Toby Price but he still remains firmly entrenched in the overall running in fourth place. Photo: RallyZone

Catching the two riders ahead of him by around kilometer 150, Toby Price then assisted in opening the tricky-to-navigate stage eight. Although Toby accumulated one minute and 47 seconds in bonuses, an unfortunate one-minute penalty reduced the time gained. Happy to safely complete the stage in 17th, and now looking forward to the rest day and the remaining six stages, Toby is happy to be lying fourth overall.

“I’m definitely looking forward to the rest day now – time to relax and get sorted for the second week of racing,” Price said. “I lost a little time today riding up near the front, but my overall position is still decent. In the leading group today we were leaving perfect tracks for the guys behind to follow, so it was inevitable that we would lose some minutes. The rocks were super-slippery, too, which meant it was best just to ease off a little rather than risk a crash. A bit of care now can pay off a lot by the end of the race.”

Photo of rally rider Skyler Howes in the 2023 Dakar Rally stage eight
Skyler Howes still maintains the overall lead despite finishing 19th on today’s stage. Photo: RallyZone

After leading the riders out Rally leader Skyler Howes rode together with teammate kevin Benavides through to the finish. Choosing to ensure accurate navigation rather than risk losing a large amount of time through an unforced error, Howes maintained a solid but calculated pace through the 346-kilometre special to complete the stage in 19th place. Although the result reduced his advantage in the overall standings, Skyler still remains top, one minute and 13 seconds ahead of the second-placed rider.

“A tough day to open today. We ended up riding in a group of three at the front, and although I think we did a really good job with the navigation, we took a little while to do it,” Howes explained. “The dirt is really wet, so that leaves a perfectly clear line for anyone following, and of course it makes it far easier to make up time on those ahead. I’d rather lose a few minutes than be going home though, so overall, I’m happy with how the day turned out and I’m still ahead in the overall. It’s rest day now, and that’s always an important milestone to hit. We knew the first half of this year’s event would be tough, and it was! Time to relax a little now before focusing on the final push to the finish next week.”

Tomorrow is time for the well deserved rest day at the Dakar Rally – it will be spent in Saudi Arabia capital Riyadh – so all riders will be transferred to a hotel and be able to recover their energy for another week of action. In the meantime, mechanics and engineers from the team will work hard to revise the Honda’s CRF 450 Rally in every detail – starting with a wash and continuing with the check of each component.

2023 Dakar Rally – Stage 8 Provisional Classification
1 Ross Branch (Hero) 3:46:18
2 Daniel Sanders (GASGAS) 3:49:33
3 Mason Klein (KTM) 3:49:51
4 Pablo Quintanilla (Honda) 3:52:47
5 Adrien Van Beveren (Honda) 3:52:53
6 Michael Docherty (Husqvarna) 3:54:18
17 Toby Price (AUS), 4:00:51 +14:33

2023 Dakar – Provisional Overall Classification [After Stage 8]
1 Skyler Howes (Husqvarna) 30:33:16
2 Kevin Benavides (KTM) 30:34:29
3 Mason Klein (KTM) 30:34:29
4 Toby Price (KTM) 30:36:14
5 Pablo Quintanilla (Honda) 30:37:01
6 Adrien Van Beveren (Honda) 30:37:05
7 Daniel Sanders (GASGAS) 30:41:19

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