Stage 11 saw the rally tick over the 4,000km mark of timed segments and was the beginning of the Empty Quarter marathon. This means the crews are not allowed to receive any assistance from their teams at the end of the special and must camp in a separate bivouac before taking on the 12th stage. The South-east region of Saudi Arabia earned its name for a reason, with the barren landscape and infamous dunes, along with baking desert sun, proving the toughest part of the 45th edition of the Dakar Rally so far.
Thursday started with a 151km liaison to the start of the 275km special stage, which consisted of a mixture of challenging level-3 dunes, riverbeds and soft sand, before ending at the marathon bivouac. Despite the demanding nature of the route, right from the start it was a stage dominated by the new YXZ1000R Turbo Prototype, with the leading three crews battling for the stage victory between them throughout.
After securing back-to-back fourth place finishes on the last two days, Porém and Sanz managed to claim their first Dakar stage victory ahead of their X-raid teammates, with incredibly just 22 seconds separating the podium trio. Portuguese driver Porém is contesting his fourth Dakar alongside rookie Argentinean co-driver Sanz, and the duo took their first T3 Lightweight Prototype stage victory in a time of three hours, 19 minutes and 11 seconds.
Just twenty seconds behind them were the history-making Stage 8 winners, Dakar Rookie Ferreira & his experienced co-driver Palmeiro, who gave Yamaha their first taste of victory in the Car category on Sunday. Incredibly, despite it being Ferreira’s first Dakar, he now has three podiums and one stage win to his name, and while they will not be classified as official finishers due to not completing Stage 3. Despite this, with the Dakar counting as the first round of the 2023 World Rally Raid Championship (W2RC), their podium means they have collected more vital points do add to their tally,
The Chilean crew of Casale & Leon have been leading the Yamaha charge in the general classification from the start. After recording their first podium of the rally on the previous day in second, three-time winner of the Quad category at the rally, Dakar Legend Casale, and his co-driver Leon made sure it would be a day to remember for Yamaha as they made it a 1-2-3. They ended the stage just two seconds behind Ferreira and Palmeiro, and almost six minutes ahead of their closest rival.
While the leading three crews were battling at the front, the Empty Quarter took its toll on their teammates. Ahmed Alkuwari Fahad (QAT) and Manuel Lucchese (ITA) struggled with an overheating issue in the extreme conditions and were forced to stop, before being able to continue and finish the stage in 32nd.
Dakar Legend Camelia Liparoti (ITA), competing in her 14th consecutive Dakar, and co-driver Xavier Blanco (ESP) experienced a technical issue that saw them lose time as they could not push as hard as they would like, but still brought their SSV home in 33rd.
It was a tough day for defending Women’s Trophy duo Annett Fischer (DEU) and Annie Seel (SWE), who are also competing in the W2RC, as a crash that saw them roll their YXZ1000R Turbo Prototype meant they had to wait for help from one of the T5 Trucks. Fortunately, both were unhurt and after repairing their vehicle they finished the stage in 38th.
Stage 12 is the second part of the Empty Quarter marathon. Having spent the night away from their team and having to service their cars and fix any issues themselves, the crews will head out from the bivouac for a 21km liaison to the start of the special stage. They will then take on a 185km timed section, with more extreme dunes and soft sand on the agenda, before a 167km liaison back to the bivouac in Shaybah where they will be reunited with the X-raid Yamaha Supported Team before the final two stages of the rally.