– Ross Branch acheives third place in the prologue stage
Hero MotoSports Team Rally, the motorsport team of the world’s largest manufacturer of motorcycles and scooters – Hero MotoCorp, has begun its campaign at the 46th edition of the toughest race on the planet – the Dakar Rally – at AlUla in Saudi Arabia today. This is the eighth consecutive Dakar appearance of Hero MotoSports Team Rally.
Participating with a full squad of four pilots, the Hero MotoSports team features a stellar lineup of Rally GP class riders Joan Barreda, Joaquim Rodrigues, Ross Branch, and Sebastian Buhler.
Starting their 2024 campaign on an encouraging note, the team completed a short, yet challenging 27 km long Prologue stage, with all four riders finishing in the top 20 positions in the premier Rally GP class. Ross Branch sealed a podium spot with a 3rd place finish, followed by Joan Barreda in the 15th, Sebastian Buhler in the 16th, and Joaquim Rodrigues in the 18th positions.
A longer stage unlike in the previous years, the Prologue today set a definitive tone for the rally – a thorough Dakar stage set amidst the rocks, canyons, and sands of AlUla where navigation tests were also in plenty. The massive bivouac in the 1000-year-old AlUla city also set the scene for the departure podium ceremony that formally inaugurated the 2-week long race. A long array of 136 bikes, 10 quads, 116 cars, 35 SSVs and 36 trucks have started Day 1 at the mightier than ever, Dakar 2024.
In its fifth year at Saudi Arabia, the 2024 edition is touted to be the toughest Dakar so far – longer stages, extreme terrains, and confusing navigation on offer. Two new formats of racing have also been introduced by the organizers to add more spice – a half marathon stage early on in the race, and a 48H chrono stage during which the competitors will be split across several bivouacs, away from their teams, and surviving on bare minimum essentials.
The 46th Dakar Rally is also the opening race of the 3rd edition of the World Rally Raid Championship (W2RC). Hero MotoSports is a Rally GP class participant at the W2RC, and will attend its five rounds starting with the Dakar, followed by the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge (Feb), BP Ultimate Rally Raid in Portugal (Apr), Desafio Ruta 40 in Argentina (June), and closing the season with the Rallye du Maroc (Oct).
The first full stage of the Dakar Rally 2024 will be a 532 km ride South-east from Alula to Al Henakiyah, reportedly featuring geological features never seen before at the Dakar. Lots of rocks and volcanic remains are expected enroute, and it doesn’t seem easy for any competitor to open big gaps in this 405 km special.
Wolfgang Fischer, Team Manager, Hero MotoSports Team Rally: « We are happy to be back at the Dakar again, after a full year of preparations. It’s fantastic to start the race with a podium for Ross, and the others maintaining strong pace. Today was the kickoff of what’s supposed to be the most difficult Dakar in Saudi Arabia. It will be a really long race, difficult stages over many kilometers, and challenging new formats of racing introduced as well. A lot of difficult situations, a lot of kilometers in front, but we feel well prepared. We are happy to be here taking up this mighty challenge for Hero MotoSports. I also extend a big hello and thanks to all our partners and fans across the world. »
Ross Branch: « What a great way to start the 2024 Dakar Rally! It was nice flowing and sandy tracks today, and I had a lot of fun. My Hero 450 was running amazing, and a 3rd place today helps me get a good position to start tomorrow. Looking forward to a nice long Dakar Rally, and I’m so happy and proud to be here, part of such an amazing team! Thank you to all our fans & supporters. »
Joan Barreda: « Today was a short but difficult stage. I had two difficult situations – once when I missed a waypoint and had to go back to cross it, and I also met with a small crash. However, I could gather up some good rhythm and speed after that. Tomorrow will be a really tough stage, really long, and with a lot of rocks. Now we start the Rally! »
Sebastian Buhler: « The prologue was a bit tricky as it took us quite inside the canyons. I made a small mistake by entering a wrong valley, and then lost some time finding my way back to the exit and the correct route. But it’s only the prologue and the race is still very long. Tomorrow we will try our best to make it well in the first long stage. »
Joaquim Rodrigues: « I’m happy to be here at the Dakar once again, after a year of recovery from my injuries from the last one. The prologue was really tough to crack – a true Dakar stage. I made a minor mistake, but it’s just the prologue, and serves as a good warm up before the long first stage tomorrow. It’s going to be a really long rally, but our team is prepared to ace this challenge. »
Provisional Rankings – Prologue (Rally GP Class)
1. Toscha Schareina, Monster Energy Honda Team, 17m 35s
2. Daniel Sanders, Red Bull Gas Gas Factory Team, + 12s
3. Ross Branch, Hero MotoSports Team Rally, + 19s
15. Joan Barreda Bort, Hero MotoSports Team Rally, + 1m 25s
16. Sebastian Buhler, Hero MotoSports Team Rally, + 1m 28s
18. Joaquim Rodrigues, Hero MotoSports Team Rally, + 2m 25s