The Red Bull Desert Wings are heading back to the Dakar Rally in an attempt to tame the wild sands of Saudi Arabia. A new route, new technologies and new faces will all feature, but the spirit of adventure remains the same.
Yesterday’s route announcement revealed over 8,000 kilometres of perilous terrain to be navigated over two weeks. The action gets started with a 19km prologue leg between Jeddah and Ha’il on January 1. Then comes 12 stages over sand in all shapes and colours, with a rest day in Riyadh on January 8 before the chequered flag flies in Jeddah on January 14.
Dunes on nearly every stage of the third Saudi Arabian edition of the Dakar will see the level of difficulty ramped up once again. A marathon stage running from Ha’il to Al Qaysumah, with an overnight bivouac in Al Artawiya, is scheduled for the opening days of the rally. Even the most experienced competitors will have to stay on their toes throughout the rally with over 70% of tracks completely new for this Dakar. Let’s meet those brave enough to take on the challenge…
Making its Dakar debut in January will be the Audi RS Q e-tron. Audi Sport aims to be the first to use an electrified drivetrain in combination with an efficient energy converter to compete for victory at the Dakar.
As well as their futuristic T1-E category car, Audi Sport have enlisted some of the best in the business to guide their new machine through the dunes. Stéphane Peterhansel (FRA)/Edouard Boulanger (FRA), Carlos Sainz (ESP)/Lucas Cruz (ESP) and Mattias Ekström (SWE)/Emil Bergkvist (SWE) will be at the controls of a trio of Audi RS Q e-trons in Saudi Arabia. Peterhansel’s 14 Dakar titles, Sainz’s legendary status within rally competition and Ekström’s versatility make this a package to keep your eye on.
« I’m very proud to be involved because I think it’s a very challenging project. Our goal is clear, we need to try to win straight away. » – Carlos Sainz
Representing Toyota Gazoo Racing will be the Dakar winning experience of Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Mathieu Baumel (FRA) and Giniel de Villiers (ZAF)/Alex Haro (ESP). Three-time Dakar winner Al-Attiyah is determined to be the first Middle Eastern driver to win the rally in his home region. The Qatari will be racing the new look Toyota Hilux T1+ model in Saudi Arabia.
« We’re coming to this Dakar with our new T1+ car. We will have bigger wheels and more travel in the suspension than before, this will help us on the rough ground. » – Nasser Al-Attiyah
Also bringing a T1+ car to the 2022 Dakar is nine-time WRC winner Sébastien Loeb (FRA). A two-time podium finisher at the Dakar, Loeb will be behind the wheel of Prodrive’s BRX Hunter with new co-driver Fabian Lurquin (BEL).
« We’re in better shape than last year so our aim is to be competitive on every level. » – Sébastien Loeb
Making the switch from two wheels to four at the next Dakar is Laia Sanz (ESP). After finishing all 11 Dakars she has previously ridden – including a Top 10 finish – Sanz now teams up with co-driver Maurizio Gerini (ITA) in a MINI ALL4 Racing. Also representing the six-time Dakar winning manufacturer will be Kuba Przygonski (POL)/Timo Gottschalk (DEU) in a MINI JCW Buggy.
« I have the confidence that comes from knowing I’ve got a car that will not give me problems. This will help me make a good debut and finish the Dakar. » – Laia Sanz
Five-time Dakar winner Cyril Despres (FRA) and co-driver Taye Perry (ZAF) will take their place on the start line as part of the ambitious GEN Z project. The eventual aim of GEN Z is to enter and win the Dakar in a fully hydrogen-powered vehicle.
« We’re so close now to racing 100% hydrogen-powered cars at the Dakar. The progress that is being made is mind-blowing. » – Cyril Despres
Taking responsibility for putting Red Bull KTM Factory Racing back on top of the bike race will be a trio of former Dakar champions. Toby Price (AUS) has won the rally twice, Matthias Walkner (AUT) is this season’s FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship winner and Kevin Benavides (ARG) is the reigning Dakar champion.
Red Bull KTM Factory Racing won an unprecedented 18 consecutive editions of the Dakar between 2001 and 2019. However, victory has eluded them since the rally relocated to Saudi Arabia. Significant redevelopment has occurred to the team’s KTM 450 Rally bike as they target their first Middle Eastern Dakar win.
« The bike has some new features for this Dakar. We’re a little bit lighter so that’ll make it easier to control in the tight and technical sections as well as give us that stability at high speed. The motorcycle is basically 80% new for this Dakar. » – Toby Price
Looking to get ahead of KTM’s factory crew will be a formidable looking duo on GasGas machinery. Sam Sunderland (GBR) won the Dakar in 2017 and Daniel Sanders (AUS) was the best placed rookie last time out in Saudi Arabia. This pair will represent GasGas Factory Racing on RC 450F bikes in 2022.
« I’ve been getting faster and faster at every rally I’ve done. I’ve got some big ambitions so I’m going to keep working hard to make them happen. » – Daniel Sanders
Also in the mix to shake up the bike category is two-time MotoGP race winner Danilo Petrucci (ITA) who will make his Dakar debut wearing Tech3 colours. There’s also Camille Chapelière (FRA) aiming to be his country’s first Dakar bike race winner since Despres. Štefan Svitko (SVK) finished the 2016 Dakar as runner-up and retains his dream of going one better.
« For me it’s really a dream come true to race the Dakar. It’s an event I’ve always wanted to do since I was a child when I was watching video tapes of the Dakar Rally from the 80s and 90s. Now, thanks to KTM, this dream is coming true. » – Danilo Petrucci
Regional interest in the performances of Mohammed Balooshi (UAE) and Mohammed Jaffar (KWT) will be high. These bikers have grown up racing on the dunes and will look to make that experience count at the upcoming Dakar.
In the side-by-side (SxS) race we have the Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team returning for their third Dakar. The young squad made history at the previous edition of the world’s toughest rally with some monumental stage wins.
Cristina Gutiérrez (ESP) became the first female stage winner at the Dakar for 16 years when she set the fastest SxS time on the opening day of the 2021 rally. Gutiérrez now returns to the Dakar as the T3 champion of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies alongside co-driver François Cazalet (FRA). This pair were joined on the championship circuit by the team’s newest pairing – Guillaume De Mevius (BEL)/Tom Colsoul (BEL) – who are also off to the Dakar.
« This year, François Cazalet and I will be surfing the dunes of Saudi Arabia again, together with the Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team. » – Cristina Gutiérrez
Seth Quintero (USA) made his own piece of history at the 2021 Dakar when he became the rally’s youngest ever stage winner. Now 19 years old, Quintero returns to drive the team’s OT3 by Overdrive with navigator Dennis Zenz (DEU). Also back in Saudi Arabia for their third Dakar with the Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team will be Mitch Guthrie Jr. (USA)/Ola Floene (NOR).
« My goal for Dakar is to be the youngest driver to ever win it. » – Seth Quintero
Also gunning for glory in the SxS race will be Chaleco López (CHL), winner of the combined T3 & T4 categories in both 2019 and 2021 with co-driver Juan Pablo Latrach (CHL).
As for the big beasts of the truck race, the pre-rally favourites for victory are Team Kamaz Master. The Russians have won the first two editions of the Dakar to be hosted by Saudi Arabia and are now out to make it three-in-a-row. In fact, Kamaz have won 16 of the previous 19 runnings of the truck race at the Dakar.
The four drivers tasked with bringing home another victory to Russia are; Eduard Nikolaev (RUS, Dakar winner in 2010, 2013, 2017, 2018 and 2019), Dmitry Sotnikov (RUS, Dakar winner in 2021), Andrey Karginov (RUS, Dakar winner in 2014 and 2020) and Anton Shibalov (RUS, Dakar runner-up in 2021).
« As always we’re going to the Dakar with a clear plan and we’ll stick to it. Our team won the Silk Way Rally this year and that helps us to believe another victory is possible in Saudi Arabia. » – Dmitry Sotnikov
Among Kamaz’s rivals in their class will be Ignacio Casale (CHL), now driving a Tatra truck after taking three quad bike titles at the Dakar.
Stéphane Peterhansel: « I have to say I was really surprised by the capacity of this car, especially the response of torque power. I’ve had to adapt my driving style a little but through testing we’ve been able to hit good speeds over long stages. I’m excited to be part of this project, not only to try to win with a new generation of car but also to see what the future will be. »
Carlos Sainz: « I’m very proud to be involved because I think it’s a very challenging project. Our goal is clear, we need to try to win straight away. »
Mattias Ekström: « From the first day of this project I could feel a lot of excitement. The concept of the drivetrain is unique and very high-tech. Something that has been driving me during my entire career has been to develop cars to go faster and be more efficient. Our entire team is super excited to go to this Dakar. »
Nasser Al-Attiyah: « We’re coming to this Dakar with our new T1+ car. We will have bigger wheels and more travel in the suspension than before, this will help us on the rough ground. For sure this car can win the Dakar one day. »
Sébastien Loeb: « It’s still exciting and a big challenge. We know it’s not easy to win Dakar because it’s very long and very demanding. We’re in better shape than last year so our aim is to be competitive on every level. »
Laia Sanz: « I have the confidence that comes from knowing I’ve got a car that will not give me problems. This will help me make a good debut and finish the Dakar. I’m aiming to learn as much as possible and will do my best to get as good a result as possible. »
Cyril Despres: « We’re so close now to racing 100% hydrogen-powered cars at the Dakar. The progress that is being made is mind-blowing. I can’t wait to share it with the world. The Dakar is the ultimate testing laboratory for this new technology. »
Toby Price: « The bike has some new features for this Dakar. We’re a little bit lighter so that’ll make it easier to control in the tight and technical sections as well as give us that stability at high speed. The motorcycle is basically 80% new for this Dakar. »
Matthias Walkner: « In 2018 I managed to fit all the pieces of the puzzle together perfectly and win the Dakar. This season I’ve won another World Championship and shown that I’m back at my best. Now we as a team can hopefully jump once again to the highest spot at the Dakar. »
Kevin Benavides: « My biggest Dakar achievement was in 2021 when I won the rally. Now I’m coming back on a KTM 450 Rally and it’s really an amazing bike. I feel very comfortable on the bike, it has a great engine and chassis. We’ve done a lot of testing and now we’re ready to go for the win at the next Dakar. »
Sam Sunderland: « The change of colours is quite cool for me, it’s refreshing and exciting. The goal is there to win for GasGas and to be the first guy in our era to win on two different bikes. That would be something quite special and something that has got me all fired up. »
Daniel Sanders: « This has been a really good season for me. I’ve gained so much experience ahead of racing my second Dakar. I’ve been getting faster and faster at every rally I’ve done. I’ve got some big ambitions so I’m going to keep working hard to make them happen. »
Danilo Petrucci: « For me it’s really a dream come true to race the Dakar. It’s an event I’ve always wanted to do since I was a child when I was watching video tapes of the Dakar Rally from the 80s and 90s. Now, thanks to KTM, this dream is coming true. »
Cristina Gutiérrez: « This year, François Cazalet and I will be surfing the dunes of Saudi Arabia again, together with the Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team. »
Seth Quintero: « My goal for Dakar is to be the youngest driver to ever win it. We got close last year, but unfortunately we had a little bit of a mishap. We’re going to regroup this year and hopefully with my co-pilot we’ll be back stronger than ever before. »
Guillaume de Mevius: « It’s very special for me because my dad did the Dakar seven times. He was the best Belgian driver in his category and I would like to be the same. I would like to be as good as him, maybe better and maybe win the Dakar one day. »
Dmitry Sotnikov: « As always we’re going to the Dakar with a clear plan and we’ll stick to it. Our team won the Silk Way Rally this year and that helps us to believe another victory is possible in Saudi Arabia. »