The 45th edition of the Dakar Rally is just around the corner, with the longest route since 2014 set to provide the toughest challenge to competitors on Saudi Arabian soil in the four years the event has visited the Middle East state.
In the car category, Toyota’s Nasser Al-Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel are the defending winners having taken their fourth victory in January this year, while Bahrain Raid Xtreme’s Sébastien Loeb and Fabian Lurquin will be looking to claim their maiden Dakar triumph.
Then there’s the threat from Audi, which competes in the separate T1-Ultimate class, while American hopes lie primarily in the T3 Lightweight Prototype category, with Seth Quintero, Austin Jones and Mitch Guthrie all going in search of victory.
At DirtFish, we will be focusing our attention on the main four-wheel categories on the Dakar: T1 and T2 cars, T3 Lightweight Prototypes and T4 SSVs. But don’t worry, we’ll also round up the best of the T5 Trucks and Dakar Classic at the end of the rally, as well as the best of the bikes and quads.
Here is all the key information you need ahead of the event:
360 crews total (excluding Dakar Classic)
143 Bike and Quad crews
65 T1 crews (23 T1+, three T1U and 39 T1.2)
55 T5 crews (trucks)
47 T3 crews (T3 Lightweight Prototype)
45 T4 crews (SSV)
5 T2 crews
The main car category is split into three distinct sub-classes, with T1+ and T1U sharing the top billing and all but certain to dispute the overall victory.
Toyota Gazoo Racing fields three GR Hilux DKR T1+ machines for Al-Attiyah, South African Cross-Country champion and 2009 Dakar winner Giniel de Villiers, and Henk Lategan. A number of customer cars are also on the entry list, with Belgian outfit Overdrive Racing a possible podium contender with local driver Yazeed Al Rajhi.
The nearest challenger to Toyota in terms of performance is likely to come from the Prodrive-run Bahrain Raid Xtreme Hunter T1+, with Loeb and Lurquin joined by experienced Argentinian veteran Orlando Terranova. As with Toyota, there are customer Hunters also in the mix, with GCK’s Guerlain Chicherit hoping for a strong result, having won the penultimate round of the World Rally-Raid Championship in Morocco. A second customer car is entered for Vaidotas Zala.
Having not won the Dakar since Stéphane Peterhansel’s record 2021 success, X-raid attacks the 2023 edition on two separate fronts, with a new T1+ based on the successful Mini John Cooper Works Rally machine for Jakub Przygónski and Sebastian Halpern, while Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi and Dennis Krotov will race an older and proven Mini JCW Buggy.
Audi is the only team entered in the T1U category – reserved for alternative propulsion cars – and will be one of the favorites for the victory with three RS Q e-tron E2 cars. In one is 14-time winner Peterhansel who is again navigated by Edouard Boulanger, while Carlos Sainz is looking for a fourth Dakar victory alongside Lucas Cruz. The third car is filled by 2016 World Rallycross champion Mattias Ekström and 2018 Junior WRC champion Emil Bergkvist.
T3 Lightweight Prototype
Such is the depth of talent in the T3 class, it is increasingly difficult to predict the podium, let alone the overall winner of the category. Notably, there has been a big shake-up in the entry compared to the last Dakar, with Red Bull becoming the factory Can-Am team while also maintaining the successful Off-Road Junior Team USA program. The latter has moved from the Overdrive Racing-prepared OT3 vehicle to the Can-Am Maverick, making it highly possible that a Can-Am will fill each of the steps on the rostrum.
This year’s winner Francisco “Chaleco” Lopez Contardo is going in search of a fourth Dakar victory at the wheel of a Red Bull Can-Am factory team XRS; the Chilean is one of the very best in the category and his consistency was a crucial part in his 2022 triumph.
Leading the Red Bull Off-Road Junior team is Californian Seth Quintero, who has set two Dakar records in the last two years: the youngest Dakar stage winner at 19, and the driver with the most stage wins in a single edition at 11. Quintero’s Red Bull team-mates form an all-US lineup with Mitch Guthrie returning after missing the 2022 edition through COVID-19 and last year’s T4 winner Austin Jones stepping up.
Lopez Contardo will be joined by Extreme E champion Cristina Gutiérrez Herrero, who will have a new navigator this year in the form of Pablo Moreno Huete in a Can-Am Maverick.
Former Red Bull Junior driver Guillaume de Mevius will drive an OT3 machine for the GRallyTeam alongside Gutiérrez’s former navigator François Cazalet.
Outsiders include the likes of past Quad Bike winner Ignacio Casale, who will drive a Yamaha X-raid YXZ 1000 R Turbo Prototype while Saudi driver Dania Akeel will also be taking part in a South Racing Can-Am.
With Austin Jones and Gustavo Gugelmin moving up to T3, former World RX driver Rokas Baciuška heads the 47-vehicle strong SSV entry list for the Red Bull Can-Am factory team. Baciuška finished on the podium this year, behind Jones’ team-mate Gerard Farres, who again leads South Racing’s efforts.
Energyland Rally Team will invariably be a threat again this year with siblings Michal and Marek Goczal running a pair of Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbos. The Polish duo were some of the fastest in the field in the 2022 edition but suffered punctures and mechanical strife which took them out of victory contention. A third Goczal will also be competing, in the form of 18-year-old Eryk, who is the son of Marek.
South Racing is well represented, and Rodrigo Luppi de Oliveira should be a contender too, while Molly Taylor is contesting her second Dakar alongside US navigator Andrew Short. Former biker Xavier de Soultrait will also contest his first Dakar on four wheels with Sébastien Loeb’s team SLR-Bardahl Team.
The 2023 Dakar will consist of 14 special stages and a prologue, covering a total distance of over 8500 kilometers (5281 miles) including liaison.
The crews will spend two days at what is called Sea Camp in the east of Saudi Arabia. Things kick off with a short 11km (6.83 miles) prologue on December 31, which will set the road order for the first proper stage on New Year’s Day, a loop around Sea Camp.
From there, the bivouac sets off on the rest of the 15-day adventure, running first up to AlUla for stage two, before continuing onto Ha’il where a pair of loop stages will be run for stages four and five.
From Ha’il, the Dakar starts to wind itself south towards Al Duwadimi, where another loop stage is run before finishing the first half of the rally in the Saudi capital of Riyadh.
The rest day will take place on Monday January 9, before recommencing with a 439km (272.78 miles) test to Haradh as the itinerary takes on a new format for the second week.
This will feature shorter stages than the opening week, but don’t let that fool you into thinking they will be easier. Short Dakar stages full of dunes tend to last as long – if not, longer – than the longer mileage stages due to the technical aspects and tough navigation.
It could be where the rally is won or lost, as the stretch from Haradh to Shaybah will testify. Once that test is completed, two Marathon Stages in the famous Empty Quarter in the south-eastern desert of the country. No mechanical assistance will be permitted for any competitors during these two stages, meaning crews are left to fight their own causes should anything untoward occur.
For those who survive those, the penultimate test takes the crews from Shaybah to Al-Hofuf before a final, relatively straightforward stage ending with the ceremonial finish in Damman on Sunday January 15.