Friday, January 19 welcoms the final leg of the 2024 Dakar Rally. Here are some words that attempt to convey the scale of the 15-day grind through the Arabian peninsula: The race is 4,903 miles long including the public roads and trails used to reach the timed special stages. The timed stages total 2,937 miles — a few dozen miles short of driving from Boston to Los Angeles. Stages 5 and 6 are 451.7 miles apiece. Stage 7 is longer. Competitors have to fix their own vehicles on some stages, and usually only get a couple hours to do it. If competitors break down when team assistance is allowed, they have to wait in the desert for the mechanics to show — a fate only for lucky riders and drivers with in-stage support, which isn’t all of them. Red Bull’s video team has done it’s usual excellent work putting moving pictures to this description, almost four minutes of racing, breakdowns, bogging, and a touch of blood and stitches. In the video above, the scene at 3:38 is sensational.
For those who prefer static pictures, Reuters posted a gallery of gorgeous helicopter shots. We’ve put together a gallery of shots that show just how beautiful and dangerous the Dakar Rally can be. There are more than 100 images in the gallery for your viewing pleasure, if you’re so inclined.
A different Red Bull vid blew our mind in a different way, two-time Dakar winner Sam Sunderland explaining the race’s roadbook. The paper roadbook’s printed like a lengthy scroll, read like an Egyptian papyrus on two rollers behind a clear screen. Around that mechanical box are three small displays Sunderland uses to ensure his position relative to the book: An adjustable trip-meter, a backup trip-meter and speedometer because precise placement is so important, and a digital compass for CAP headings so the rider can match his bearing with the roadbook’s instructions. These four contraptions are controlled with a gaggle of five buttons and a toggle clamped to the left side of the bars. The toggle scrolls the map forward and backward, the buttons change readouts on the three screens.
The map is nothing but numbers and hieroglyphs that riders have to read in every ambient condition, through a mask or goggles, while they’re going as fast as possible trying to win a race. Sunderland’s map showed six instructions in the first 2 kilometers, an average of one direction every 1,100 feet. Dakar organizers cap the motorcycle speed limit at 140 kph, or 87 mph — 127.6 feet per second. On a fast stage, that means keeping track of a turn or a killer obstacle every nine seconds at almost 90 mph. As 13-time Dakar winner Stéphane Peterhansel said in 2021, “It becomes kind of dangerous when you push at the limit…” Kind of. And he said this while competing in a car, when he had a navigator reading the route to him from a big electronic display or two. Motorcycle riders do it solo.
As for the race, at the time of writing, two stages remain. Guerlain Chicherit is in the overall lead driving a Toyota Hi-Lux for Overdrive Racing, but the top ten is separated by just 12 minutes. The first Ford Performance M-Sport Ranger T1+ is in 18th, just over 19 minutes behind the leader and only two minutes behind the aforementioned Peterhansel in the first Team Audi Sport electric T1+ truck. The second Ford is in 136th, nearly 26 hours behind. In the production UTV category, Polaris’ two RZR Pro Factory rigs are in fifth and sixth place with Sebastien Loeb Racing. At the front of the UTVs, American Sara Price leads in a Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo by 22 seconds ahead of a Team MMP Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo. On stage 10, Price became the third woman to win a Dakar stage, behind Jutta Kleinschmidt and Cristina Gutiérrez, and the first American woman to do so.