It’s only three days to go until stage one of the 2021 Dakar Rally and the atmosphere in Jeddah is fast approaching boiling point. After various travel adventures, competitors and their machines have assembled from all over the world to take on the toughest challenge motorsports has to offer. With vehicle shakedowns already underway, we round up some of the big stories that have got the bivouac buzzing…
The Boss is back in the desert
Nine-time WRC champion Sébastien Loeb arrives back to the Dakar with a brand-new car. Loeb has joined up with the Bahrain Raid Xtreme Team and will be behind the wheel of their fearsome BRX Hunter T1 car.
The Frenchman’s four-wheel drive vehicle features a bespoke 3.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine – a first at the Dakar. During today’s shakedown the package looked and sounded mightily impressive, and the 2017 Dakar runner-up can’t wait to put it to the test against his rivals in the desert.
« We have a new project with a new car and that’s always exciting. » – Sébastien Loeb
The aims of the Hunter project match the limitless ambition of Loeb himself. There’s serious brainpower behind the design of the car and some in the bivouac are saying we could be about to witness history – victory on the vehicle’s Dakar debut drive! Take a closer look at the BRX Hunter T1 in the clip above.
Reading the roadbook for Loeb in Saudi Arabia will be his long-time co-driver Daniel Elena.
There’s a first time for everything
Leading the charge of exciting rookies at this edition of the Dakar is 18-year-old Seth Quintero.
The teenager will take his place in the Light Weight Vehicle race as part of the Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team. Quintero was denied the chance to race the Dakar a year ago on account of his age. Now he’s determined to make up for lost time and cruise over the dunes in his OT3 by Overdrive machine.
« My ambition is to be the youngest competitor to ever win Dakar. » – Seth Quintero
Lining up alongside the Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team in the Light Weight Vehicles category is Sweden’s Mattias Ekström. The former World Rallycross, DTM and Race of Champions winner will race the new YXZ1000R prototype developed by X-raid, the outfit that built Carlos Sainz’s 2020 Dakar winning MINI JCW Buggy. As well as giving Ekström his first shot at driving on the dunes, a trip to Dakar is the perfect preparation for his participation in next year’s Extreme E season which gets underway with a round in Saudi Arabia in March.
« I have never driven a race car on sand or in the dunes before. » – Mattias Ekström
In the bike race there’s a trio of first-timers that have already caught our eye in Jeddah. 6 Days Enduro winner Daniel ‘Chucky’ Sanders, French Sand Championship supremo Camille Chapelière and Middle Eastern motocross champ Mohammed Jaffar are all just three days away from their first proper Dakar stage. All three riders will be in the saddle of a KTM 450 Factory Rally bike, developed in the Austrian manufacturer’s Mattighofen headquarters.
Doubling down on safety
Bold moves have been made across the categories to increase the safety of the Dakar’s competitors.
Nowhere is this more in evidence than in the bike and quad races. New for 2021 is the stipulation that all bike and quad riders must wear an airbag jacket equipped with a fully functional pressurised cartridge. Riders will also be required to carry a spare cartridge on their machine with replacement cartridges available at refuelling points and in the bivouac.
Also new for elite bikers is a limit of six rear tyres to be used over the 12 stages of the Dakar. Working on the bike at refuelling stops is now prohibited and each machine’s front windshield must be detachable. Bikers will also now receive an audible warning ahead of reaching dangerous sections of the course.
All these measures have been put in place with a view to increase rider safety at the Dakar.
Remember to bring a good book
The glue that holds the entire rally together is the roadbook, it’s what the competitors must follow if they’re going to reach the end of each day’s stage. On select stages during the 2020 Dakar the roadbook was released just minutes before the start of the stage, rather than being passed out the night before.
At the upcoming edition this practice will be made standard, with roadbooks being handed out to competitors in all categories just 10 minutes before the start of each stage. This will lead to racers having to cram their roadbook preparation into a much shorter period of time and add to the navigational challenges of the rally.
Also new for 2021 will be the electronic roadbooks (tablets) that will feature on the dashboards of some car, truck and SxS competitors. The Dakar aims for electronic roadblocks to replace paper versions across all categories at the 2022 rally.
Sébastien Loeb: « Whenever I think of the Dakar I have such great memories, this is what brings me back to the desert. The last time I did the Dakar we were not far off winning it, this gives me motivation to come back and get the job done.
« Now we have a new project with a new car and that’s always exciting. The Dakar is something special. Starting the Dakar with a new car will be complicated because for sure there will be some surprises. We will use the experience that we have to help this new project as much as we can. »
Seth Quintero: « There’s been a lot of development of the OT3 this year and plenty of kilometres done. The body style has changed and a few things have been moved around. Visibility has been improved and this will help a lot in the dunes.
« I took not being able to race last time as a blessing in disguise. I got to learn a lot by watching guys do what they do. My ambition is to be the youngest competitor to ever win Dakar. With the amazing team I’ve got behind me I really think I can do it. »
Mattias Ekström: « It has always been a dream of ours to drive the Dakar. I have contested so many different races in my life and now it’s time for a shot at the Dakar.
« We are really looking forward to the Dakar 2021. It is also the perfect preparation for the start of the Extreme E season in Saudi Arabia. After all, I have never driven a race car on sand or in the dunes before. »
Daniel Sanders: « We raced the Andalucia Rally back in October, which was a real eye opener, but other than a couple of mistakes, I was really pleased with my pace and my navigation. Winning the final stage was great but I’m realistic about the Dakar – I know it’s another level completely. »
« Testing has been going really well – every day I spend on the bike I feel more comfortable. I couldn’t wish for better people around me either, all three of the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing guys have won a Dakar. »
Camille Chapelière: « The Dakar is something that I’ve only ever seen on television. This time I’m going to be on the other side of the screen!
« My plan is to take it step by step and do a smart race, I want to reach the finish line. If I see an opportunity to get a good result on a stage then of course I will go for it. I feel no pressure but I do expect that there will be some very long and tough days. »
Mohammed Jaffar: « The fact the Dakar moved to Saudi Arabia has made my dream a reality. All I had to do was cross the border to race.
« I only started considering the Dakar five years ago. Before I only liked the closed tracks of motocross. After having tried out rally-raid, I now love it so much and I feel I can achieve more. I was born in the desert and I know I can reach an international level in this sport. »