Dakar 2022: Changes to the course, and riders switch teams

The 2022 Dakar Rally returns to Saudi Arabia, running January 2-14 next year.

The ASO (Dakar’s organizers) made the announcement this week, saying the 2022 rally would have some changes from last year’s event. Instead of one marathon stage, there will be two, and organizers are planning on two loop stages, with day starting and ending at the same bivouac.

This year’s race will run east-to-west in a clockwise pattern, traveling through Saudi Arabia’s Empty Quarter. Sounds dangeresque, and no doubt there will be plenty of mayhem in the wilderness next winter, especially considering we’ll see three days of nothing but dune-riding.

There’s also some key changes to the factory team lineups. Kevin Benavides, the 2021 champ, recently left Honda to join the KTM factory team. Pablo Quintanilla left Husqvarna’s factory team, and moves over to the Honda squad. Then, Skyler Howes got Quintanilla’s job on Husqvarna.

That’s an intense game of musical chairs, but it all makes sense. KTM hasn’t won the Dakar in a couple of years, and no doubt wants steady Benavides to help them get back atop the standings. As for Honda, marketing is just as important as race results, and replacing Argentinian Benavides with Chilean Quintanilla means they still have that South American publicity angle. With Husqvarna, it’s not hard to see why they wanted Howes; he finished as the top privateer last year, fifth overall on a BAS Dakar rental bike. The American rider is by far the top racer without a factory deal, and has been showing podium potential for years. Don’t be surprised if this is the first big-time contract in a long series of such deals.

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