Dakar 2021 is ready to race in spite of the many challenges facing organisers and competitors to race in the two-week epic in Saudi Arabia.
With international travel all but at a standstill, competitors, teams and officials gathered at various points before being chartered into Jeddah. They will now isolate for three days before being tested for Covid-19, after which they will be released into their ‘bubbles’ within a greater Dakar bubble to prepare for the prologue on Saturday 2 January and the race proper starting Sunday 3 January and running through to Friday 15 January.
Lockdown Busting Dakar 2021 is Ready to Race
In spite of the challenges, the 43rd Dakar promises to be supreme once it gets under way with over 4800 km of racing over two weeks. Several Southern African entries are already in Jeddah and ready to deliver on the world stage. Not least the proudly South African Gazoo Racing Toyota Hiluxes, which are set to challenge for overall victory, the SA-built Century-Corvettes chasing stage victories and Botswana’s Ross Branch in the thick of the motorcycle action aboard a factory Yamaha for the first time.
The Gazoo Toyota challenge hinges around triple Dakar and Toyota’s 2019 winner Nasser Al-Attiyah and Matthieu Baumel and 2009 winner, Stellenbosch race hero Giniel De Villiers and Alex Haro Bravo. Toyota has worked and tested throughout lockdown to be ready for Dakar 2021. The team has improved and perfected its race Hiluxes and is ready to race with new speed limits and fully electronic road books handed to navigators just ten minutes before each day’s start.
A Four-Hilux Gazoo Toyota Charge
Attiyah and de Villiers will be backed by two more factory Gazoo Toyota Racing Hiluxes for perhaps Dakar 2021’s most exciting rookie combination. Henk Lategan will be guided by former Dakar malle moto non-assistance bike star Brett Cummings. The duo arrives in Jeddah with double 2019 and ’20 South African Cross Country Racing titles under their belts.
A fourth all-South African Gazoo Hilux sees former SA champions Shameer Variawa and Dennis Murphy in action too. Several other SA-built Hiluxes can also be expected to do battle at the sharp end. Yazeed Al Rajhi and Dirk Von Zitzewitz and Bernhard Ten Brinke and Tom Colsoul are proven crews both capable of winning the Dakar.
All that said, it was never going to be a cakewalk for Toyota and the Gazoo team faces some epic competition. Least of all the Minis. Like Al Attiyah, former double World Rally Champion Carlos Sainz and Lucas Cruz have won the Dakar three times, including last time out. His Mini buggy teammate Stephane Peterhansel racing alongside Edouard Boulanger, has won the Dakar an incredible 13 times, with six of those coming on four wheels.
Fighting an Army of Minis
And if those two nimble rear-drive Mini dune buggies are not enough, there’s an army of 4x4 Minis to back them up. Among them are a few truly handy Dakar crews including Orlando Terranova and Bernardo Graue. Expect Jakub Przygonski and Timo Gottschalk. Vladimir Vasilyev and Dmitro Tsyro and Erik van Loon and Sebastien Delaunay to be in the thick of it too.
Of the established Dakar contenders, the next most competitive have to be the Corvette V8-powered Johannesburg-built Century CR6 buggies. French crew Mathieu Serradori and Fabian Lurquin proved the Century’s worth with a stage win last year and he will be backed by several CR6 crews. They include former SA Dakar quad podium hero Brian Baragwanath, who has 2020 lady bike star Taye Perry reading his notes on their car debut. And quick Dakar regulars Yasir Seaidan and Alexey Kuzmich too.
Don’t ignore Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi and Xavier Panseri and former bike winner Cyril Despres Michael Horn in a pair of once Dakar dominant Peugeot 3008 DKRs. Other prospects in the fight up front include the evergreen Martin Prokop Viktor Chytka in a Ford Raptor and Former F1 driver and Le Mans 24 expert Romain Dumas and Gilles de Turckheim in a Rebellion.
There is however also a new force to contend with at the Dakar. Prodrive will be remembered for engineering Subaru’s STis to many a World Rally Championship. Now with backing from Bahrain, the company has developed and has entered a pair of so-called Hunter BRXs for none other than nine-time World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena. They will be backed up by former Dakar car and bike winner Nani Roma and Oliveras Carreras in a similar turbo petrol Dakar racer.
Motorcycles – it’s War!
Moving on to the bikes, expect war as ever on two wheels. Californian Ricky Brabec finally broke KTM’s twenty-year grip on Dakar’s top two-wheeler trophy in 2020. He won Honda’s first race since Gilles Lalay in 1989. Brabec will be backed by Jose Ignacio Cornejo Florimo, who has ended in the top ten of all four of his Dakars so far. Regular red Honda chargers Kevin Benavides and Joan Barreda Bort will both be keen on a break this year too.
KTM will of course be out for revenge. Aussie Toby Price has finished five of his six Dakars on the podium and won twice. His orange factory teammates Sam Sunderland and Mattias Walkner are also both former Dakar winners.
Yamaha is itching for a first Dakar win since Stephane Peterhansel’s last two-wheeled win way back in ’98. South African fans will be cheering Botswana’s multiple SA champion Ross Branch on his well-earned first works ride on the blue machines. Ross races for Yamaha alongside Franco Caimi, Marquis Xavier de Soultrait and Adrien van Beveren.
Other certain two-wheeled frontrunners include Pablo Quintanilla and Andrew Short on the factory Husqvarnas. Also keep an eye on Lorenzo Santolino’s factory Sherco and lady Dakar heroine Lala Sanz on a GasGas. Don’t ignore independent KTM riders, Skyler Howes, Stefan Svitko and Joan Pedrero Garcia. Or Polish Husqvarna privateers Adam Tomiczek and Maciej Giemza. The only other Southern African bike entry is gentleman rider, Kalahari Madala James Alexander from Botswana on a Yamaha.
A Side-by-Side Race to Cherish
The Side-by-Side class has been evolving strongly at the Dakar and this year’s race promises a most exciting battle. Two World Rally Championship exponents, Kris Meeke and Wouter Rosegaar’s PH Sport and Mattias Ekstrom and Emil Bergkvist in an X-Raid Yamaha bring extra interest in the lightweight class. They will have their work cut out though.
2018 Side-by-Side winner Reinaldo Varela and Maykel Justo, and former quad winners, Josef Machacek driving with Pavel Vyoral and Sergei Kariakin alongside Anton Vlasiuk’s Can Ams, should be right in there too. Add former top-ten bikers Francisco Lopez Contardo alongside Juan Pablo Latrach Vinagre. And another former biker in Gerard Farres Guell and Armand Monleon’s Can Ams too.
Austin Jones and Gustavo Gugelmin will be looking to go better on their rookie second last year in their Can Am. And there are two Polaris entries for Kristen Matlock and Max Eddy Jr and Wayne Matlock and Sam Hayes. Also keep an eye out for Nasser’s brother, Khalifa Al Attiyah and Paolo Ceci on their debut in a Can Am.
Quad honours should be fought out by Nicolas Cavigliasso, Alexandre Giroud, Tomas, Kubiena, Manuel Andujar and Kamil Wisniewski. All of them were riding Yamaha Raptors.
A Trucking Good Show
Last but not least, the trucks. What would the Dakar be without it’s desert storming behemoths? Reigning champion and double winner Andrey Karginov, Andrey Mokeev and Igor Leonov lead a four-truck Kamaz 43509 charge in search of the Russian truck maker’s incredible sixteenth Dakar victory. They are backed up by 2015 winner Airat Mardeev, Dmitriy Svistunov and Akhmet Galiautdinov.
The other two Kamaz entries are for 2019 runners up Anton Shibalov, Dmitrii Nikitin and Ivan Tatarinov; with Siarhei Viazovich Dmitry Sotnikov, Ruslan Akhmadeev and Ilgiz Akhmetzianov in support.
Belarusian MAZ would absolutely love to topple that Kamaz army. It has 2020 third placed man and 2018 runner-up Siaharey Vazovoch Pavel Haranin and Anton Zaparoshchanka in the lead truck. And Aliaksei Vishneuski, Siarhei Sachuk and Maksim Novikau as a back-up and ready to pull it off too.
Other top truck runners include Czech crew Martin Macik, Frantisek Tomasek and David Svanda in an Iveco and Praga crew Ales Loprais, Petr Pokora and Khalid Alkendi. Add Martin van den Brink, Wouter de Graaff and Daniel Kozlovsky’s Renault and Teruhito Sugawara, Hirokazu Somemiya and Yuji Mochizuki in a Hino among several top truck entries.
An Epic Dakar Fortnight Lies Ahead
Dakar commences with an 11 km prologue – a short qualifying dash near Jeddah on Saturday 2 January to establish Sunday’s starting order.
The actual race starts with Sunday’s 277 km stage en route to Bisha, before 457 km to Wadi Ad-Dawasir on Monday and a 403 km loop there on Tuesday. It’s a long day Wednesday, January 6 with 337 km of racing on the 813 km run to Riyadh. before 419 km to Buraydah Thursday and a 485 km race to Ha'il for the rest day on Saturday.
Racing resumes with the Marathon stage – 471 km to Sakaka on Sunday where there is no servicing allowed before the 375 km to Neom on Monday. There’s a 465 km loop around Neom on Tuesday and then it’s 342 km of racing to Al Ula on Wednesday. The longest racing stage follows with 511 km to Yanbu on Thursday. Then it’s a 225 km run back to the finish at Jeddah on Friday 15 January. The entire Dakar route is new for 2021.
For latest Dakar as it happens, follow theauto.page online and in the social media throughout the fortnight of racing, courtesy of Motorpsport Media and Toyota Gazoo Racing. Each day’s action will also be televised every evening on DSTV Supersport, also backed by Toyota Gazoo Racing. Consult your TV guide for details.