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Dakar Rally 2023, Prologue: Mattias Ekstrom leads Audi charge; Seth Quintero second in T3

Former DTM champion Mattias Ekstrom led a solid prologue for Audi, which took three of the top six positions in the prologue of the 2023 Dakar Rally.

Ekstrom finished the 8-mile opening time trial in 8 minutes, 1 second ahead of rally legend Sebastien Loeb’s Bahrain Raid Xtreme Hunter.

“It’s always nice to start in a good way, but, of course, the day is long and the rally is even longer,” said Ekstrom, who finished ninth with a stage victory last year in his Dakar Rally debut. “A good end to 2022, but tomorrow is the real start. We’ll have to try and be focused for another two weeks.

“I think it’s really good for me, a junior in the sport, to start from the back so I have some tracks to follow. Everything was okay, the mechanics and engineers did a good job… Now we can celebrate New Year and charge batteries for tomorrow.”

Stephane Peterhansel finished third in his Team Audi RS Q-Etron E2, 11 seconds off Ekstrom’s pace. Defending Dakar Rally champion Nasser Al-Attiyah was 12 seconds behind in fourth with his Gazoo Racing Toyota.

“Finishing behind the trio is not a bad result from the perspective of fighting for the stage win tomorrow, which would come in handy to open stage 2 right before the key third stage,” said Al-Attiyah, a four-time Dakar overall winner.

Three-time Dakar Rally winner Carlos Sainz was 14 seconds behind in sixth for Team Audi, which made its Dakar debut last year with a hybrid electrical engine.

It was a much better start than the 2022 Dakar Rally for Audi, which struggled with technical and mechanical problems the first week. Last year, it took until Stage 8 for Audi’s first victory (also with Ekstrom).

HOW TO WATCH: Dakar Rally 2023 schedule on NBC Sports’ Peacock

“The race is on,” said Peterhansel, known as “Mr. Dakar” with 14 championships (six on a bike, eight in a car). “You put your helmet on at the start, and you know you are about to be launched into the thick of it. (Team Audi) finished first, third and sixth. Personally, I did better than I expected. The course was more favorable to pure rally or rally-cross drivers, which I’m not, so it was a good result. I’m not used to coming up with strategies, but I’ll be in a good position to pick my starting order for tomorrow.”

Sainz complained last year the Audi RS Q e-tron was underpowered because of FIA regulations, and the Spaniard has been unhappy again this year with new weight regulations that make the car heavier than its internal combustion competitors.

In the bikes division, Toby Price won the prologue. A contingent of a dozen Americans was led by 2020 champion Ricky Brabec in 11th.

In the T3 light prototype category, Seth Quintero finished second and nearly picked up where he left off last year (when he won a record 12 stages and 10 consecutive).
“It was an awesome day today and we got in some quick kilometers,” Quintero, 20, said. “I was looking for the top 5 today before a big day tomorrow. When we get going tomorrow I’m going to see where my pace is compared to the other guys in the pack and then take it from there.”

NBC Sports’ daily 6:30 p.m. ET coverage on Peacock of the 2023 Dakar Rally will begin Jan. 1.

NEXT: The 2023 Dakar Rally will begin in earnest Monday with a loop stage around Sea Camp covering 603 kilometers (including 368 km against the clock in the special). It’s the first of 14 stages that will cross more than 5,000 km.

Here are the top three in each category after the prologue:


1. Mattias Ekstrom (SWE), Team Audi Sport, 8:00; 2. Sebastien Loeb (FRA), Bahrain Raid Extreme, 8:01; 3. Stephane Peterhansel (FRA), Team Audi Sport, 8:11.


1. Toby Price (AUS), Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, 8:22; 2. Daniel Sanders (AUS), Red Bull GasGas Factory Racing, 8:23; 3. Ross Branch (BWA) 8:31. U.S. notables: 10. Ricky Brabec, Monster Energy Honda, 8:36; 18. Mason Klein, BAS world KTM, 8:42; 39. Skyler Howes, Husqvarna Factory Racing, 9:01; 46. Jacob Argubright, Duust Co Rally Team, 9:07; 56. Pablo Copetti, Del Amo Motorsports, 9:18; 74. Paul Neff, American Rally Originals, 9:27; 103. Petr Vlcek, Detyens Racing, 10:01; 104. Lawrence Ace Nilson, Duust Rally Team, 10:01; 105. David Pearson, American Rally Originals, 10:02; 119. Kyle McCoy, American Rally Originals, 10:19; 133. James Pearson, American Rally Originals, 11:01; 135. Morrison Hart, American Rally Originals, 11:02.


1. Alexandre Giroud (FRA), Yamaha Racing, 8:50; 2. Marcelo Medeiros (BRA), Taguatur Racing, 8:51; 3. Daniel Vila Vaques (ESP) 9:02. U.S. notable: 15. Pablo Copetti, Del Amo Motorsports, 9:18.

T3 Light prototype

1. Cristina Guiterrez Herrero (ESP), Red Bull Can-Am Factory Racing, 8:49; 2. Seth Quintero (USA), Red Bull Off-Road Junior team, 8:51; 3. Guillaume De Mevius (BEL), Grally Team, 8:53. U.S. notables: 4. Mitch Guthrie, Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team, 8:55; 12. Austin “A.J.” Jones, Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team, 9:11;


1. Rokas Baciuska (LTU), Red Bull Can-Am Factory Racing, 9:06; 2. Cristiano Batista (BRA), South Racing Can-Am, 9:08; 3. Gerard Farres Guell (ESP), Can-Am Factory South Racing, 9:14.


1. Martin Macik (CZE), MM Technology Team, 9:43; 2. Mitchel Van Den Brink (NLD), Eurol Team De Rooy, 9:48; 3. Janus Van Kasteren (NLD), Boss Machinery Team De Rooy, 9:49.