Hero MotoSports Team Rally completed its Dakar 2023 campaign with a top-10 overall finish, including two stage wins and a stage podium, making it the team’s best performance in the gruelling rally.
Sebastian Buhler, the youngest of the three team riders, completed the last special stage of 138km between Al Hofuf to Dammam in sixth place on Sunday.
Buhler’s team-mates Franco Caimi and Ross Branch finished just four minutes behind him, making it to the 13th and 14th positions in the RallyGP class.
For Branch, this was the first Dakar with the team. He suffered a crash earlier in the race, and then, on a tough Stage 4, he lost over three hours with an empty fuel tank owing to fuel injection issues.
The rider, however, kept pushing hard and claimed two stage wins in three days, finishing overall 16th in the Rally GP class.
Caimi, who was competing in Hero colours for the first time, finished five times in the top-10 and emerged overall 10th in the category.
Buhler, who returned to racing after a year due to injury, claimed his first ever stage podium, finishing second in Stage 2. The German lost a few hours in Stage 4 along with Ross due to loss of fuel. However, he finished Dakar 2023 in overall 14th position in Rally GP class.
“This was a really tough Dakar -- long stages, long liaisons, rain, dunes. But I’m happy that it went well. I had a few problems at the start, but we overcame those challenges, and the performance has been much better since. The team also made some good progress, with Ross winning two stages,” said Buhler.
“It has been a long one (rally), and we had to work a lot harder this time. I had a tough time in the first week, but I’m happy to go back with two stage wins -- so overall it turned out to be an incredible race,” said Branch.
The team will next be seen in action at the second race of the World Rally Raid Championship (W2RC), at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge in February 2023.