We’ve featured some of the most grueling ktmlong-distance rallies here on Roadkill.com before, notably the Baja 1000 and Mexico 1000. Both send incredible vehicles down Mexico’s Baja Peninsula in a full-out attack of the desert terrain. Those races beat on the machines and crews mercilessly and we’ve paid witness to them.
However, the Dakar Rally takes all of that insanity and stretches it out over two weeks every year. As is tradition, the Dakar kicks off the motorsports year and this year finds competitors covering more than 9,000 kilometers (~6,000 miles) through three countries in South America: Bolivia, Peru, and Argentina. Here’s what you need to know—including how to watch on MotorTrendOnDemand—to follow the world’s toughest challenge of endurance in racing.
Long-distance rallies like Dakar are usually called “rally raids” and they feature multiple classes of vehicles tackling a variety of rugged terrains. If you’re wondering about the name, this rally raid originally was called the Paris-to-Dakar Rally and it spanned routes from Paris to Dakar, Senegal.
In 2009, organizers moved the rally to South America because of safety concerns in West Africa. The South American route changes annually, but competitors can always count on having to battle soft sand dunes, boulder-ridden passages, and incredible elevation in the Andes Mountains. The route this year visits La Paz, Bolivia, at nearly 12,000 feet elevation and naturally goes even higher with five entire days spent at more than 10,000 feet.
The whole shebang starts in Lima, Peru, on Saturday, January 6. The winners will roll into Cordoba, Argentina, on January 20. The route itself is comprised of a mix of timed competition stages and long transit stages to get to and from the competition (“special”) stages. The transit stages sound like a piece of cake, perhaps, but they will top 900 kilometers in a day. And that’s in addition to the time competition stages.
Those feature an incredible array of obstacles, most chock full of danger. A big accident can mean serious injury or even death. The remoteness means the single rider or small crew may be forced to make emergency—and often Roadkill-caliber—repairs. As Roadkill aficionados and 24 Hours of Lemons teams will tell you, you can bring spare parts all you want, but you seldom have backups for the things that ultimately break.
Participants will compete in five different categories of vehicle—Car, Truck, Bike, Quad, and UTVs— each of which feature their own characteristics and special preparation requirements. Here’s a quick rundown of the classes:
Car – This really means “Passenger Vehicle” and is only a theoretical classification at that. These vehicles are all tubeframe with incredible suspension designs. They feature rugged builds and bodywork that resembles mostly SUV and Pickup trucks along with a two-person crew (driver and navigator). The teams to watch come from factory-backed efforts of Peugeot and Toyota. Dakar legend Stephane Peterhansel has won the last two Rallies for Peugeot, but Toyota seem poised to challenge with two-time winner Nasser Al-Attiyah anchoring their squad of Hiluxes.
Truck – Yeah, not pickup trucks. These are 1,000-horsepower big-rig diesels modified for off-road use. Three-person crews man these incredible trucks, which surf the desert dunes and can probably outrun most passenger cars in South America. The Russians have mostly dominated this class with their Kamaz trucks and likely will do so again. Observe:
Bikes – Simply put, these riders (and the Quad riders) are the most durable endurance racers on the planet. They set off alone aboard motorcycles across some of the world’s most unforgiving terrain. Retirements abound and danger lurks annually for these riders; motorcycle competitors account for the majority of the competition deaths at Dakar. Since 2001,
Holland’s Austria’s KTM has won every single Dakar Rally in this class and they bring a strong team again in 2018.
Quads – When the rally moved to South America, organizers added a class for four-wheelers. Most of the characteristics of Bikes apply to this class: Stages are spent alone amidst the grueling landscapes. A Yamaha quad has won the class every single year.
UTV – The UTV/Side-by-Side class was new last year and is basically a home for the increasingly popular Polaris RZR 1000. These lightweight off-road vehicles feature room for two and not much else. They’ve also been added to off-road racing everywhere from short-track circuits to Baja.
With a field that includes hundreds of drivers, navigators, crew, and riders, we can’t really cover too much. Dakar singled out some favorites in this video, which pretty much matches what we’d expect, too.
We’ll allow ourselves to play favorites, though, and we’ll be rooting for American underdogs Ricky Brabec (Bike – Honda) and Bryce Menzies (Car – MINI/X-Raid) along with two more American Bike competitors: Andrew Short (Husqvarna) and Mark Samuels. We’d also love to see Toyota get their first Dakar win.
How To Watch
Starting January 6, MotorTrendOnDemand will feature a bite-size daily recap (3 to 5 minutes) from the action in South America. That means that every day through January 20, you can get the scoop on this long battle with machine and nature. Starting Sunday morning, you can get updates from Dakar 2018 right here on MTOD.
Dakar Rally has a smartphone app and a very active social media presence during the event. You can usually watch updates from the rally on the Dakar Rally YouTube page. Check out the Dakar Rally Route page to see where the rally is every day.
Additionally, NBC Sports Network has arranged some amount of television coverage, probably a daily highlights package that will also run on Red Bull TV on the web.
Many teams also put together good summaries daily (or as internet connectivity allows). The EVM Rally team (above) puts together awesome subtitled videos with their MAN trucks.