The 2023 Dakar Rally is going to look a lot different from the last two editions, thanks to rule changes and a much-revised route.
Since the Dakar moved to Saudi Arabia for 2020, it’s run in a loop-style course through the country. This year, it will run west-to-east, with 15 days of racing and longer special stages (with liaison stages shortened, to compensate). While the racers have tested the edges of Saudi Arabia’s Empty Quarter in previous year, they’ll spend three days in there for the 2023 race, with some logistical support based in the neighbouring country of Oman. Could this be the start of a pan-Middle East race, which is what Dakar organizers say they’ve wanted for years? We’ll see.
Other big changes are related to the race’s rules, not the course itself. First off, Dakar announced some sort of prize money system for amateur racers. This is big news, as the top 20 or so riders are almost always all pros, and that means no money left to help the smaller teams pay off their bills. As the cost of Dakar continues to rise, this is a bigger and bigger deal every year.
Dakar also announced new rules that give an incentive for finishing first on a stage, so riders are less motivated to slack off in an effort to avoid letting others catch up the next day. This has been a problem at Dakar for years: Riders who win on Monday must open the track on Tuesday, which means everyone else can catch up to them and take that time back.
Another ploy Dakar is trying, to avoid this problem: Randomized maps. This means riders won’t have the exact same roadbook every day; different riders have different roadbooks, and if you follow someone else’s tracks, you may find yourself wayyyyyy off the track you were supposed to be following, and earning massive penalties.
Organizers have also announced new digital roadbook, instead of the old paper-based roadbook. This move has been in the making for years, but now it’s here. Some riders won’t like it, but it’s definitely the way of the future for rally raid.
There are other changes to the retro Dakar classic categories, and the eco-friendly Dakar Future category. None of this will have much of an effect on the race this year, but it makes you wonder if the race’s future is a mix of gas-guzzling retro machinery along with brand-new EVs and other machines that don’t burn petrol-based products.