The greatest desert race in the world—arguably the greatest motor race of any kind—begins this weekend. The Dakar Rally returns to Saudi Arabia, kicking off December 31 and running through January 14.
This year will be a hard slog, with 4,706 km of special-stage and 8,549 km in total mileage. That’s hundreds of kilometres of timed racing every day, running from west to east. This year’s rally starts at a lux “Beach Camp” on the Red Sea, and ends at the Arabian Sea. The marathon stage comes towards the end of the race, running through Saudi Arabia’s Empty Quarter.
There are some big rule changes, as always. The most significant change is the new time bonus for finishing towards the front of a stage. While some of the finer details are yet to be worked out, it seems the three or five riders who finish first will get a time bonus, which will lessen the sting that usually accompanies a stage win at Dakar. Over the past few years, the rider who finished first in the stage was set to open the next day’s stage, meaning they had to perform difficult navigation for the entire pack—allowing everyone else to make up time.
Another change: Last year, riders were allowed to re-start the race even after not completing a stage. They couldn’t compete for the win, but they could still amass points for the FIM Cross Country Rallies series, and also assist their teammates on the course.
This year, the RallyGP class (the elite moto category at Dakar) will not be able to re-start; other motorcycle classes will be allowed to re-start, and may also choose between digital mapbooks or old-fashioned paper. The RallyGP class will still use paper mapbooks for the 2023 Dakar.
Finally, as far as off-season team moves, the big news after the last race was the Yamaha factory team folding. Yamaha had raced at Dakar ever since the first races in the 1970s, but had not won the championship in many years; its results became embarrassing after the rally moved to Saudi Arabia. Now Adrien Van Beveren has gone from Yamaha to Honda’s factory team, and Ross Branch has moved on to the Hero factory team.
Honda is a threat to win again the championship this year, as always. Hero is probably not. Rieju, Sherco, Fantic and even Kove all have factory teams, and while their progress will be interesting, they will also probably not win anything except for perhaps a stage victory. Aside from Honda, the other main teams to watch are Husqvarna, KTM and GasGas’ factory squads (which are all basically running the same bike) Stefan Svitko will almost certainly be the top privateer, coming into the rally fresh from a win at the Africa ECO race.
See this year’s updates on Dakar.com as the race progresses!