Red Bull: Only the best and bravest need apply for the Dakar

© Flavien Duhamel

The 2018 Dakar Rally roars into life in January and only the most intrepid offroad racers have signed up for the challenge. Among the fearless competitors taking on the world’s toughest rally are the Red Bull Desert Wings squad. Across all four categories we have a courageous mix of past champions and rally-raid rookies preparing to push themselves to the limit in South America.


Returning car race champions Team Peugeot Total will once again bring their D-ream Team of driving talent. Their fleet of four Peugeot 3008DKR Maxis will be in the hands of Stéphane Peterhansel (13-time Dakar winner), Carlos Sainz (one Dakar win), Cyril Despres (five Dakar bike titles) and Sébastien Loeb (nine-time WRC winner).

Since returning to the Dakar in 2015, after an absence of 25 years, Peugeot have wasted no time in reestablishing themselves as the team to beat. Peterhansel has delivered back-to-back wins for Team Peugeot Total at the past two editions and was joined on the podium earlier this year by Loeb and Despres as the French outfit recorded a 1-2-3 result.

Among the drivers looking to breakup Peugeot’s dominance in the car category are two previous Dakar champions flying the flag for the Toyota Gazoo Racing Team. Nasser Al-Attiyah (two-time Dakar winner) and Giniel De Villiers (one Dakar win) have been testing the Toyota Hilux in extreme conditions throughout the year in an effort to get ahead of their rivals.

Further competition in the car race will come from a pair of MINI drivers who are out to make their mark in rally-raid. Kuba Przygoński has transferred to cars from bikes in recent years while rookie Bryce Menzies arrives from American Baja racing.

Taking on the Dakar’s punishing two-week schedule for the first time in 2018 will be the all-new KTM 450 Rally. The hopes of the Red Bull KTM Factory Team securing their 17th consecutive Dakar win are resting on this redesigned bike and the four riders taking the saddle. Both Sam Sunderland and Toby Price already know what it takes to win the Dakar while Matthias Walkner and Antoine Méo are chasing their first titles.

Challenging this foursome will be Stefan Svitko of the Slovnaft Team who proved he has what it takes with a runners-up finish in 2016. Expect the biggest cheers in La Paz to be reserved for Bolivia’s Daniel and Walter Nosiglia while millions in India will be tracking the progress of CS Santosh.

Gunning for victory in the truck division will be Team Kamaz Master as the serial winners from Russia ship over to South America. The Blue Armada will be piloted by Eduard Nikolaev (two-time Dakar winner), Ayrat Mardeev (one Dakar title), Dmitry Sotnikov and Anton Shibalov as the reigning champions send four trucks into battle in 2018.

Then there’s Ignacio Casale, who’ll be going for his second Dakar Rally win in the quad category after reigning supreme in 2014. The Chilean came second in the quad race in 2017, so now he’ll be on the charge to go one better in Peru, Bolivia and Argentina.

Stéphane Peterhansel: « For me, the Dakar is really a question of balance, like a ritual that goes on all year. You recharge your batteries, you prepare yourself physically and mentally, the tension builds in September, that gives way to pure excitement in December when you just want to get out there and do some kilometres, then, when you finally arrive, you’re flat-out from the off.” »

Carlos Sainz: « “The evolution of the car has been really going well, since we discussed it the day after the Dakar in January. The Team Peugeot Total engineers have done an amazing job and I think the team and the drivers are even happier than last year. Everything is ready and prepared, so we’re just looking forward to the start in Peru now.” »

Giniel De Villiers: “ »The last Dakar was disappointing for us, but we have been testing a lot this year to improve our car. This Dakar will be demanding from the start with the dunes of Peru. I loved our last visit to Peru and I’m pleased to be going back there. It’s great to have as much off-piste racing as possible.” »

Bryce Menzies: « “It was very unfortunate that I had to give up my chance at the 2017 Dakar. It has been my lifetime ambition to compete so it was tough to have to wait one more year. I had an accident and it was always going to be tough to be 100 percent ready and it turned out to be too risky. But now I’m ready to race the most difficult rally-raid in the world and I can’t wait to get started. »”

Sam Sunderland: “ »It’s been a good year since I won the Dakar, even if it does put a lot of weight on my shoulders this time around. So many people have been in touch with congratulations and you can see the passion that exists for this race. I went to Goodwood this year and Mark Webber came up to congratulate me! These things are really nice.” »

Toby Price: « “After a recent clean-up of my injury, I’m feeling a lot stronger already. It’s a big step forward and things are already looking really good for January. I’ve been able to get some time on the new bike, and it’s a huge step forward. The team has done an incredible job. I was off riding for close to eight or nine months. It’s clearly not the preparation any rider would want leading up to the biggest race of the year, but then you don’t forget how to ride a motorcycle. »”

CS Santosh: « “I’m enjoying the sport, racing in the most beautiful places in the world. So the ambition remains the same: to finish. As long as you’re good every day, having fun, you’ll get a good result. Of course I want to be able to compete with the best but I want to take it day by day.” »

Dmitry Sotnikov: “ »Our crew has had a very serious target this year – to test the whole range of technical aspects of our race truck. From the very beginning of the race there’s heat and dunes and then the high altitude of Bolivia. This course is going to be tough for crews and their trucks.” »

Ignacio Casale: « “I’ve had good results this year including a win at the Atacama Rally. As well as racing I’ve been very focused on training and testing. My number one goal is to win the Dakar Rally so everything I’ve been doing has been working towards the race. »”

Christina Gaither,