Hillier completes Dakar: "That was a hard, hard two weeks"

The 2023 Dakar Rally is the debut on the event for Isle of Man TT race winner James Hillier. Check this page for updates on his progress in Saudi Arabia.

James Hillier and GasGas 450 Rally.

James Hillier has become the first rider to have ridden the Dakar having also raced at the Isle of Man TT.


The Dakar Rally is in many ways unrecognisable in 2023 compared to the original edition in 1979. However, while the rally no longer starts in Paris or finishes in Dakar, it remains one of the largest, most prestigious and most celebrated fixtures on the global motorsports calendar, as well as one of the toughest challenges in all of sports. 

The Isle of Man TT races are similarly tough when compared to the Dakar, even if the challenges are almost totally different between the two events. A six-lap Senior TT will usually last for around 105 minutes; while a stage in the Dakar can last more than five hours for the fastest rider through. 

James Hillier made his Isle of Man TT debut in 2008, and so has competed on the Snaefell course on 13 separate editions of the TT, winning one race in the Lightweight TT in 2013. This year, he is also making his debut on the Dakar Rally.

Hillier’s debut is in the Original by Motul, or Malle Moto, class, meaning he is essentially on his own without a team. Therefore, he has to prepare his GasGas RX 450 F - as well as himself - between stages, in addition to riding the stages themselves.

“When you’ve done the TT, normal life is pretty boring after that,” Hillier told the Dakar television crew in an interview conducted in anticipation of the beginning of the rally and which was aired as part of the Day 2 highlights show, broadcast in the UK on Eurosport. 

“It’s such an iconic event in motorsport, it’s such a challenge,” Hillier continued. “I’m a bit scared of the challenge because it’s going to be so hard, but I’m also excited about the experience.”

The Briton’s Dakar debut was preceded by a rally debut on the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge last year as well as the Rally Andalucia. In Abu Dhabi, Hillier was next to fellow Brit Makis Dewi Rees-Stavros, who is also competing in the Original by Motul category in this year’s Dakar and after the second stage was 63rd overall and the top-placed Original by Motul rider who is also a Dakar rookie. 

The third of three British riders this year was Sam Sunderland, who won his second Dakar in 2022 with GasGas. Unfortunately, Sunderland’s title defence lasted only 52km on the first stage, when he crashed out of the rally.

This page will be updated below with updates from James Hillier throughout his Dakar, from now on the third day of the event until its conclusion.

Day 15, Stage 14, 15 January 2023

The 14th stage of the 2023 Dakar was the final one of the event, and two weeks after the race started there were less than 15 seconds covering the top two riders. It was advantage Toby Price heading into the stage, but a strong run from Kevin Benavides brought him past Price and into the lead at the crucial moment, seeing the Argentinian take his second Dakar title. 

Price admitted his disappointment at missing out on social media after the race, but for KTM his second place confirmed a 1-2 for the factory team. For the Pierer Mobility Group, their bikes locked out the podium, with the American Skyler Howes in third place for Husqvarna.

The conditions for the final stage were absolutely brutal, as shown in the video below, with mud created by another night of heavy rains. 

James Hillier's goal in the2023 Dakar Rally was to finish. It was his debut in the event, and competing in the Malle Moto, or Original by Motul, class, this is main ambition. It was also a goal that he completed, and completed well. Hillier finished the final stage in 74th place, and finished 76th in the rally overall, and 13th in the Original by Motul class.

Hillier said on completing his first Dakar: "I think it's still sinking in. That was a hard, hard two weeks of riding- not just the riding, everything. A hard two weeks. Not a lot of sleep, lots of work. But [I came for the finisher's medal], and it paid off. I did what I came to do, and it's just going to take a while to sink in I think. So, now I'm going to go home to sleep."

Day 14, Stage 13, 14 January 2023

Day 14 was also the penultimate day of the 2023 Dakar Rally. Its completion left only the final stage to go, and also saw Kevin Benavides win the sage. The Argentine finished just 27 seconds ahead of the impressive rookie, Michael Docherty. 

Benavides is now just 12 seconds short of the rally lead, heading into the final stage, meaning it is all to play for between himself and Toby Price, who had a self-admitted messy stage in the 13th test. The Australian maintains his lead, but with only 1 minute and 41 seconds between himself and Skyler Howes, in third place, this is surely one of the closest Dakars in the history of the event.

Further back, James Hillier finished the penultimate stage of his first Dakar in 62nd place, meaning he enters the final stage in 76th place. At this stage of the event , Hillier was probably hoping for a simple night's work on the bike to prepare it for the final stage, but the discovery of a tight chain link and a damaged tyre as a result meant both had to be changed ahead of the final day.

Day 13, Stage 12, 13 January 2023

Day 13 of the 2023 Dakar Rally brought the 12th stage of the event, which was won by the Chilean factory Honda rider, Nacho Cornejo, ahead of Daniel Sanders and Toby Price.

Additionally, Price has taken the lead of the rally from Skyler Howes by 28 seconds. Howes himself finished sixth on the stage, just behind Kevin Benavides, who remains third in the rally and still less than three minutes off the lead. 

The end of Stage 12 also marked the end of 2023's Marathon Stage, which began on Day 12's Stage 11, and only two stages now remain of this year's event.

For James Hillier, that means the end of his first ever Dakar Rally is almost in-sight. He ended the 12th stage 70th-fastest, and is now 79th in the overall rally standings, remaining 13th in-class. Even though two stages can seem like little left to do, there are still 1,092km left to be ridden.

Day 12, Stage 11, 12 January 2023

Day 12 of the 2023 Dakar Rally, on which the riders competed the 11th stage of the event, saw the first half of the two-part 'Marathon Stage' in Saudi Arabia's 'Empty Quarter'. It all sounds rather ominous, and essentially the Marathon Stage is one where there is no outside assistance for the competitors.

Luciano Benavides won his third stage of the 2023 Dakar in the first half of the Marathon, which took the riders into the Empty Quarter from Shaybah, to which they will return tomorrow at the completion of the Marathon.

Behind Benavides were the two Australians, Daniel Sanders and Toby Price, the latter moving back into second place in the rally behind Skyler Howes, who resumes the lead after temporarily losing it to Kevin Benavides. Only 28 seconds split Howes and Price, and Kevin Benavides is only 2 minutes and 44 seconds behind the rally leader.

For James Hillier, who dislocated his shoulder on Stage 5, a Marathon Stage through the deep sandy dunes of the Saudi desert is unlikely something he was looking forward to with much positivity. Nonetheless, he got through the stage seemingly cleanly, picking up no penalties and finishing 75th. That moves him up to 80th in the overall standings, and he remains 13th in the Original by Motul class.

Day 11, Stage 10, 11 January 2023

Stage 10 of the 2023 Dakar Rally was won by Ross Branch, his and Hero Motorsports' second stage win of the 2023 event in what was the special stage of the shortest distance in this year's Dakar at 114km. 

The shortness of the special highlighted in the time differences between the riders, with only two one covering the top four. There was also an impressive performance from Husqvarna-mounted Dakar rookie Michael Docherty from South Africa, who recorded the third-fastest time. 

Behind Docherty in fourth place was Kevin Benavides, who took the rally lead with his performance with Skyler Howes and Toby Price down in 15th and 16th places, respectively. 

James Hillier completed the stage in 91st place, but also took three minutes of penalties, without which he would have been 90th, ahead of riding partner Gareth Jones. Overally, Hillier is now 82nd, and 13th in-class.

Day 10, Stage 9, 10 January 2023

Day 10 of the 2023 Dakar Rally was the resumption of the rally after the rest day on Monday. The stage was won by Luciano Benavides, whose brother Kevin Benavides lost five minutes to the rally leader, Skyler Howes, in the ninth test. 

Kevin Benavides had ended the first week of the rally only 13 seconds behind Howes in the battle for the rally lead, but has now dropped to third behind Toby Price, who reduced his own deficit to Howes by almost two minutes in Stage 9, and now sits only three seconds behind the rally leader. 

Stage 9 winner, Luciano Benavides, is now fifth in the overall standings, just behind Adrien van Beveren, and there are still less than 20 minutes covering the top six, which is completed by Mason Klein. Klein and van Beveren had an incident in Stage 9, and both riders appear to be blaming each other for causing it.

James Hillier closed the day in 82nd, another two-place improvement in the general classification for the IOMTT star over his position at the end of Stage 8. He was 75th in the stage, and is still 13th in the rally classification for the Original by Motul class riders, all despite continuing to nurse his dislocated collarbone. 

Hillier was also interviewed by BBC South today (Tuesday 10 January), in which he described his Stage 5 crash which dislocated his collarbone as "a silly fall over a dune, literally at walking pace."

"The weather has been a lot colder than previous years and certainly colder than I expected with a lot of rain - it's just relentless," Hillier said. "But it's surprising how far the body can go, a few times I've felt rock bottom and then things get worse, they get colder, but you learn how to deal with it."

Hillier continued "Everything is worn out, my body is tired, my brain is tired. [But] I know I can get to the finish and keep the wheels turning.

"It's like crossing an ocean I guess, there is no point stopping in the middle, you could easily quit - but I won't."

Hillier is also now riding with the Canadian rider, Gareth Jones. The two had both trained with Lyndon Poskitt, the motorcycle racer and adventurer, and, after Hillier's collarbone injury, Jones began riding with him on the stages.  

Day 9, Rest Day, 9 January 2023

The ninth day of the Dakar is the rest day. For the factory riders, that means a day of resting and preparing for the next day. For the Original by Motul class riders, it means getting the chance to give the bike a first proper service and check since the start of the rally, and that has been mostly the case for James Hillier. 'Mostly', because he also got acquainted with the car of the Bahrain Raid Xtreme (BRX) team, which was hoping to challenge for the rally win in the car class this year with nine-times World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb before his victory bid was derailed in the first days by several punctures. "Tempting," Hillier says.

Day 8, Stage 8, 8 January 2023

Stage 8 of the 2023 Dakar Rally was a resumption of activities for the two-wheeled entrants, who did not compete on Stage 7. It was also a return to form for Daniel Sanders, who led in the earliest days of the rally aboard the factory GasGas before picking up some kind of sickness and dropping down the order. He finished second on Stage 8, rising back up to seventh overall, and within seven minutes of the lead. In fact, only 7 minutes and 21 seconds cover the top eight which is bookended by rally leader Skyler Howes and eighth-placed Joan Barreda. 

The stage was won by the Batswana, Ross Branch, aboard his Hero 450 Rally. Branch's stage win was also the second ever for the Indian Hero Motorsports team.

James Hillier finished the stage in 79th, allowing him to rise from 86th overall after Day 6  to 84th at the end of his first week of Dakar action, despite, it turns out, what he thought was a broken collarbone at the end of Day 5. Day 9 is the rally's rest day, so the next action from Saudi Arabia will be on Tuesday.

Hillier said: "Finished Stage 8, another one down and done. I say 'just finished' - the stage is done. It's a rest day tomorrow- well, they call it a rest day, it's a non-riding day, but I've got work to do on the bike, just give it a good service and look-over, really, it's been good so far and I want to try and keep it that way.

"Those who have watched the results- I've had to go a bit slower because on Stage 5, 100km from the end of the stage, I crashed. A small crash, but I landed bad [...] on my shoulder and convinced that I'd broken my collarbone. I finished the stage, 100km to the end, and could feel the bone moving. I genuinely thought it was bust and it was the rally over because it was so painful - I was in tears riding back.

"I made the mistake of getting in the ambulance from the end of the stage back to the bivouac, and that's given me a six-hour penalty. Anyway, I went back, got an X-ray, and it turns out it's just- I don't know the medical term but my collarbone has dislocated from where it meets the shoulder. So, the doctor said it was alright for me to ride if I could, he said it's not broken. So, they strapped me up and gave me some tablets, and I've done two good days' riding now [but] I just have to go slow, I can't- it hurts, I can feel it a lot. But, we can get to the end and that is the goal.

"We're well over halfway now, so nearly there, just got to keep going."

Day 7, Stage 7 (cancelled), 7 January 2023

As mentioned below, Stage 7 of the 2023 Dakar was cancelled for the motorcycle competitors, whose rally will continue in Stage 8. The rally leader when action resumes on Sunday will still be Skyler Howes, while James Hillier will kick off in 86th overall, and 13th in the Original by Motul class.

Day 6, Stage 6, 6 January 2023

The sixth day of Dakar 2023 saw Luciano Benavides win the stage. His brother, Kevin, closed the day in third overall, seven minutes off the leader, Skyler Howes, while Toby Price ended the day in second.

James Hillier finished the stage in 92nd place, meaning he dropped from 66th in the overall standings after Stage 5 to 86th by the end of Stage 6, although this was also contributed to by a retrospective six-hour penalty in Stage 5. It had been the longest stage of the rally so far at 919km or 572 miles. The most important thing for Hillier is that his Dakar debut continues to Day 7, although Saturday's stage has been cancelled for the bikes due to the chaotic schedule in the previous few days that have led to a particularly long amount of time in the saddle, even by Dakar standards, and in some unpleasant conditions with temperatures often hovering just above freezing and a significant amount of rain, too. So, the next stage for the riders is Stage 8 on Sunday.

Day 5, Stage 5, 5 January 2023

The fifth day of the 2023 Dakar Rally was once again held in decent conditions, but at the front there was drama for Daniel Sanders, who come into the day leading by over three minutes. The factory GasGas rider slipped from the lead to eighth place by the end of the day as a result of an energy-sapping sickness. Skyler Howles now leads ahead of the KTM factory duo of Toby Price and Kevin Benavides.

From James Hillier there was little to report, but he remains ninth in-class in the rally, and moved from 68th to 66th in the rally's overall classification. 

There was also a late announcement from the ASO that the route of the rally for days six and seven will be changed. Firstly, Friday's special stage, the sixth of the rally, has been shortened by 100km, and will be followed by a 300km link route to the bivouac in Riyadh. Stage 7 will then take place on the planned route for Stage 8, which would go from Al Duwadimi to Riyadh. The plan is then for the rally caravan to move to the Al Duwadimi bivouac on completion of Stage 7, although this is weather-dependent, with the plan for the eighth day of the rally yet to be confirmed. 

The change in route is due to flooding in the location planned for the Al Duwadimi bivouac, which was intended to be the site at the end of Day 6, caused by bad weather in recent days, which was also the cause of the cancellation of Stage 3 on Tuesday. The flooding means the bivouac cannot be installed in Al Duwadimi, and the uncertainty over the condition of the area by the time Stage 7 is completed means is the reason for the uncertainty regarding moving to the Al Duwadimi bivouac after Stage 7. Since it is now unconfirmed where the rally caravan will be located after Stage 7, planning for Stage 8 cannot be certain.

Day 4, Stage 4, 4 January 2023

Day 4 of the 2023 Dakar Rally thankfully saw a return of favourable weather after Day 3's washout and the cancellation of Stage 3. The stage overall was won by Spain's Joan Barreda, only 16 seconds ahead of Pablo Quintanilla; while Daniel Sanders on the factory GasGas heads into the fifth day of the event with a lead of 3 minutes and 33 seconds over Skyler Howes. 

As for James Hillier, the day was a positive one, finishing the stage 58th-fastest and 8th in the Original by Motul class. In the general classification for the rally, Hillier now lies ninth in-class, and 68th overall, and just 1 minute and 25 seconds ahead of the above-mentioned Makis Dewi Rees-Stavros.

After Day 4, Hillier said: "[Today was] another tough day. Yesterday was very hard with [the] rain and cold. It will be an early one again tomorrow, but I'm going to go a little slower. Today I got a bit carried away in places and used up too much energy, [but] I need to save it for later in the race."

Day 3, Stage 3, 3 January 2023

Day 3 of the 2023 Dakar saw the stage cancelled after many competitors were already in the stage due to bad weather preventing the medical helicopter from flying. 

At the end of the day, Hillier said: "Today was cold. It was a three-hour ride, it turned out to be- they stopped us and brought us back [to the bivouac]. I thought I was cold at the beginning, but that went to a whole new level.

"Quite a lot of people have just gone to bed, but I've just gone through the bike, and it's pretty much ready now. Nothing major tonight, just- there's no point cleaning it because the paddock [...] is just a mess, so as soon as we leave this little tent area it's just going to be covered [in dirt] again. Tyres and stuff are still good.

"I don't know much about tomorrow's stage, that might be a good thing. But I'm just going to sort my kit out now, I've got another set so I'll leave the wet stuff here- everything was saturated, so- just wet boots, I have no way of drying them, so tomorrow I've just got to wear wet boots."

While you are here, you might also want to check out our Isle of Man TT 2023 guide.

Day 2, Stage 2, 2 January 2023

After stage 2, the official Dakar website published that Hillier had crashed in the stage and hurt his shoulder. However, this was a mistake, and after the end of the second stage Hillier was still without a crash in the 589km to that point.

“[Compared to the first stage and the Prologue,] I’m relaxing a bit more on the bike, and the more I ride the easier it’s getting; I’m getting a bit better at processing the information I need, rather than trying to process too much information. Obviously, as you can appreciate, it’s a lot of stuff, taking in what the roadbook says, what the terrain is telling me, looking out for cars and dust and everything else. It’s so much information to process, but I feel like the more I do the easier that is getting. So, I’ll just keep plugging away. I would like to say it’s halfway through, but I’m pretty tired already and it’s only Day 2, so it’s going to be tough- I think I thought of knew that anyway, I just convinced myself it wasn’t.”

2021 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R Review | Green lane machine!

2021 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R Review | Green lane machine!