The big race, the biggest race, the best race (Are you sure?—Ed.) starts today. The Dakar Rally kicks off in Saudi Arabia on January 5, 2024, and this year promises to be most interesting.
Today’s riding was simply a prologue stage, which sets the starting order for the first proper day of racing, January 6. The 2024 Dakar Rally will run almost 8,000 kilometers this year, ending January 19. That mileage includes nearly 5,000 kilometers of special stages, which are timed to determine scoring.
Alas, as far as we can see, there are no Canadians in the moto category this year. There are only five or six American riders, and only one female rider. Times are tough!
And things get even tougher-looking when you take a peek at the factory teams. Husqvarna lost Skyler Howes to Honda, and never replaced him. Husky is down to a single rider, then! (Luciano Benavides is riding a wave of good results for Husky though, as he won the W2RC title this year).
KTM’s Matthias Walkner is also out, leaving KTM with only Toby Price and Kevin Benavides then, and Big Kev is also recovering from a training injury suffered in early December. Over on the Gas Gas team, it’s the same story; two riders, Daniel Sanders and Sam Sunderland, and Sanders is also recovering from a serious injury he suffered last year.
Honda’s looking strong, though, with Howes, Ricky Brabec, Jose Ignacio Cornejo, Pablo Quintanilla and Adrien Van Beveren. They also hired young speedster Tosha Schareina this year. It could be the most experienced and formidable team to ever ride Dakar, although they don’t have a whole lot of number-one titles between them…
Yamaha axed its factory team, but Fantic returns riding what’s basically a 450 Yammie. India’s Hero team returns, hiring Joan Barreda this year, along with Mike Buhler, Ross Branch and Joaquim Rodrigues. Expect big things there—big upset stage wins, followed by big crashes a few days later. Branch and Barreda might be the two most ill-fortuned riders to tackle Dakar in recent memory.
Sherco is back in 2024; props to them for bringing a team, but they face a hard battle to even get a rider in the top 10 this year (Rui Goncalves, Lorenzo Santolino and Harith Noah ride for Sherco this year). It’s getting harder and harder for under-funded factory teams to get the results that were possible 20 years ago.
And then there’s Kove. After bringing all three factory bikes across the finish in 2023, against all expectations, Kove returned with the same three Chinese pilots as last year, and added Xavier Flick and Neels Theric. They also signed American hotshot rider Mason Klein who got a factory bike, but is essentially riding as a privateer. His progress will be most interesting to watch!
We can’t do a day-by-day, blow-by-blow coverage like we used to, in years gone by, but CMG will keep you up-to-date on the news that matters from this year’s Dakar, as always.