What is the Dakar Rally?
The Dakar is a particularly long rally-raid. It requires speed, versatility and physical fitness from drivers to show their talent from morning to night. Rough terrain, punctures and other breakdowns oblige, a good knowledge of mechanics is an undeniable advantage.
Is that enough to finish the race?
Of course not. Competitors must also know how to read the track (at very high speed) to detect possible obstacles and adapt to a wide variety of terrains ranging from sand dunes and rocky valleys to mountainous areas and even swamps. In addition, they must go from one checkpoint to another using a GPS and a road book.
How long does the Dakar last?
Two weeks. And you can cover up to 450 km in a single stage and over 5,000 km in total. You sleep in a tent in a bivouac with the other competitors, you wake up well before dawn to reach the starting line. And you end the day well after sunset. In short, to participate, you have to be fit and probably a little masochistic.
But hey, you are entitled to a day of rest halfway through…
Last year, more than 1,000 people from 63 different countries took part in the Dakar.
The brainchild of French adventurer Thierry Sabine, the Dakar rally began as Paris-Dakar in 1979, crossing France to Africa and ending in Dakar, Senegal. It established itself on the international motorsport calendar as the first major event of the year, before the Monte-Carlo Rally.
The route has changed over time. In 2009 the event even moved to South America, races were held in Argentina, Chile, Peru and Bolivia, across the Andes and the Atacama Desert. A decade later: off to Saudi Arabia. So, no of course, it’s not near Dakar, but the main thing is that the route remains spectacular and retains the race’s own sense of adventure, wonder and discovery.
What does the Dakar 2023 route look like?
In 2023, competitors will start from the beaches of the Red Sea, cross the Dawasir Valley, cross mountains and spend three days in the huge sand dunes of the Empty Quarter before parking their vehicles in Damman, in the Persian Gulf. It will be the longest event since 2014 and it promises to be ultra-demanding, even for the most seasoned competitors.
Speaking of competitors, who are the stars of the Dakar?
This Stéphane Peterhansel… is he the son of the first Stéphane?
No, it’s the same person! We call him Monsieur Dakar and he has won the rally 14 times since his first success in 1991. Five times on a motorcycle and seven times in a car (including the last time in 2021).
Who are the favorites in the car category?
Swede Mattias Ekström has won everything from DTM to World RX to Race of Champions, so expect him to be in on the action too. And, as always, don’t rule out… Peterhansel.
A living legend
Those who know him best tell us about Carlos Sainz, who is preparing for his 14th Dakar.
Wait a minute, you mentioned motorcycles. Are there also motorcycles?
Yes yes. And riders ride huge 450cc four-stroke motorcycles with big shocks and a huge fuel tank to cross the desert. Navigation is even more difficult, as they have to follow the roadbook and read the track in front of them. This is how Thierry Sabine took part in the Dakar for the first time and, for many purists, this is the essence of rally-raid.
Why is it so hard? Just follow the pilot in front, right?
The organizers anticipated this strategy. This year, there are routes A and B, which means that not all drivers will take the same path. Another novelty: time bonuses are awarded to competitors who finish first and open the next stage.
Who are the favorites in the motorcycle category?
OKAY. So the Dakar is a long-distance event that tests physical and mechanical endurance, engineering skills and navigation…
That’s right. But did we tell you about the trucks? After winning the event on a quad, Ignacio Casale now plans to do the same in a Tatra truck.
So the Dakar Rally is cars, motorbikes and trucks?
In the last edition, Quintero and his co-driver Dennis Zenz won 11 stage victories, a new record. A feat made all the more remarkable by the fact that a mechanical problem on the second day had put an end to their chances of securing the overall victory.
Are there any other vehicles you are not telling us about?
Since the race is held in Saudi Arabia, the organizers have added a Classic event for vintage rally cars. Old VW Beetles, Fiat Pandas and even Porsches now compete in the sands. This year, the Classic category includes a new Iconic Classic Club for cars from the 20th century and the Authentic Co-driver Challenge for vehicles running without modern instruments.
What about hybrid vehicles?
The Dakar Rally is part of a process of sustainability and transition to greener energies, as evidenced by the Audi hybrid vehicles driven by Sainz, Ekström and Peterhansel, the development of lighter and more efficient vehicles and the use of biofuels renewable and synthetic fuels. In the next few years, expect to see top racers compete in new, lower-emission categories.
When does the Dakar Rally start?
Where can I follow the Dakar Rally?
Watch the Dakar day to day, including coverage of every stage of the event and competitor interviews on Red Bull TV.
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