In a first, Hero Motosports Team Rally leads at the mighty Dakar

– Ross Branch wins stage 01 ; delivers historic achievement for the Indian manufacturer

Hero MotoSports Team Rally, the motorsport team of the world’s largest manufacturer of motorcycles and scooters – Hero MotoCorp, completed the first of twelve stages at Dakar 2024, with a stellar result. Three Hero riders crossed today’s finish line successfully, with Ross Branch finishing first among 136 competitors in the bike category. With this, Hero MotoSports is currently perched at the overall top position at the Dakar Rally 2024.

Bagging his 3rd Stage victory for Hero MotoSports so far at the Dakar, Ross Branch has established beyond doubt his intentions to finish this year on the final podium. After a spectacular performance in Stage 01, the ‘Kalahari Ferrari’ now leads the Dakar Rally with a healthy 12-minute margin ahead of the second position holder.

Exhausted to the core, Rally GP Class riders Joan Barreda & Sebastian Buhler also crossed the finish line of today’s extreme challenge in the Top-15, securing the 11th and 15th spots respectively. In the overall Rally GP class rankings, Barreda and Buhler find themselves on the 13th and 15th positions. Hero’s fourth pilot Joaquim Rodrigues however, encountered an unfortunate crash during the Stage and had to exit from the rally.

After a steady start in the Prologue stage, the competitors set out on their first full Stage at the 46th Dakar edition as early as 6am today – a 532 km eastward journey from AlUla to Al Henakiyah. The Stage was particularly demanding – setting a rightful tone for « the most difficult Dakar ever in Saudi » – and saw several top riders crash and exit from the race. Rocks and canyons set the preface for the stage, as in the prologue stage, followed by a maze of alternating wadis, off-piste, and lots of changes in direction. While the rough winding tracks and volcanic lava settlements made way for amazing sceneries, the competitors had to risk everything until the last kilometer to finish.

It was also a unique day in history where the Hero MotoSports team was lauded world over for their camaraderie and commitment to strong family values – the true spirit of Dakar. Joaquim Rodrigues crashed and fell head over on the ground losing consciousness. Joan Barreda and Sebastian Buhler who reached the spot shortly, stopped to take care of their team mate and waited until he was evacuated by helicopter to the AlUla hospital. A video of their act is currently viral on social media channels. In yet another instance, Ross Branch found fellow competitor Toscha Schareina crashing, and decided to remain by his side until medical assistance arrived. All three Hero riders were rewarded their lost time back, for being the perfect Good Samaritans.

Moving on from one of the most interior locales of Saudi, the competitors will now make their journey further east to Al Duwadimi, covering a massive 662 kms in Stage 02 – of which 470 kms are timed. The route will feature long fast stretches, and will favour the brave.

Wolfgang Fischer, Team Manager, Hero MotoSports Team Rally: « Today is a day of mixed emotions for us. The light and shadow are very close in this year’s Dakar – an unfortunate exit for JRod, and Ross wins his third Stage for Hero – all in the same day! The victory is also at a great margin, and we are extremely proud to put Hero on the overall lead at the Dakar Rally for the first time in our history. I look forward to a great race ahead! »

Ross Branch: « It was a really challenging first stage at the Dakar. This was probably one of the longest stages I’ve ever experienced at Dakar. I had a strong start, but things got tricky after I found Tosha crashing shortly after refulel, and I then remained by his side until medical assistance arrived. Finding a good rhythm afterward proved challenging, but my primary focus shifted to safely returning to the bivouac. Looking forward to a fresh start tomorrow opening the stage, let’s see how it goes. »

Joan Barreda: « It was a tricky first day for me at the Dakar. The route was full of rocks and stones, making it hard to maneuver the bike. I had to work a lot to keep going and stay safe. It wasn’t easy because some parts were really tough. I still he managed to finish, and in a good position. Looking forward to tomorrow. »

Sebastian Buhler : « Right at the start of the first stage, I felt like things aren’t going as planned. I had a crash at 70 kms, damaged the navigator and handlebar, making the rest of my navigation tough. Despite the challenges, I kept going on. In the midst of the race, I saw Jrod’s crash and stayed with him until help arrived. I wish him a quick recovery. It has been a tough year for JRod, but I hope he’ll come back even stronger next year. »

Joaquim Rodrigues : « It’s unfortunate that I crashed today, but I’m okay – it looks like it’s only a fracture on my thumb. I really don’t remember much about the accident, but from what I understand, I lost control in the front and fell head on to the ground. My team members Joan and Buhler, and a couple of others stopped to help me, and I was flown to the AlUla hospital and later to Medina. They did a scan of my head, and everything looks okay at the moment. My broken finger has been put in a cast, but other than that I feel okay. »

Provisional Rankings – Stage 1 (Rally GP Class)
1. Ross Branch, Hero MotoSports Team Rally, 04h 56m 01s
2. Ricky Brabec , Monster Energy Honda Team, + 10m 54s
3. Mason Klein, Korr Offroad Racing, + 11m 19s…
11. Joan Barreda Bort, Hero MotoSports Team Rally, + 22m 43s…
15. Sebastian Buhler, Hero MotoSports Team Rally, + 34m 41s…
DNF Joaquim Rodrigues, Hero MotoSports Team Rally.

Provisional Overall Rankings – at the end of Stage 1 (Rally GP Class)
1. Ross Branch, Hero MotoSports Team Rally, 05h 13m 15s
2. Ricky Brabec, Monster Energy Honda Team, + 11m 54s
3. Mason Klein, Korr Offroad Racing, + 11m 58s…
13. Joan Barreda Bort, Hero MotoSports Team Rally, + 23m 49s…
15. Sebastian Buhler, Hero MotoSports Team Rally, + 35m 50s…
DNF Joaquim Rodrigues, Hero MotoSports Team Rally.