Last November, Dakar director David Castera and the Amaury Sport Organisation which runs the event, announced its plans to move towards alternative energy sources from 2024. On Tuesday, the exact details of this evolution of the Dakar were unveiled during a press conference in Neom, Saudi Arabia.
A firm timeline of the green transition is now known, as are the potential energy options which will shape the next chapter of Dakar history.
A new alternative energy category will be introduced next year, with competitors free to use either fully electric, hybrid or hydrogen-powered cars.
Audi, Gen-Z and Green Corp Konnection have already committed to it, and the first hydrogen-powered truck, produced by the Gaussin Group will also break cover.
By 2026, all elite cars and trucks need to be using some form of alternative energy, with both categories needing to be fully zero emissions by 2030.
Ambitious you say? Not if you ask the ASO. Their goal is progressive and gradual, albeit in the space of just nine years.
Speak to the teams and they are just as keen to get cracking. Sven Quandt is the current boss of X-raid Mini and also the CEO of Q Motorsport which has been brought onboard to spearhead Audi’s electric Dakar program.
He believes that Dakar is ‘the playground for new technologies’ and is fully supportive of the open regulations which he reckons will ‘show the world what we are capable of’.
“I think [the ASO and everyone else] got carried away with the hydrogen thing,” Quandt told DirtFish.
“It’s not [totally] hydrogen power, its alternative energy. It’s basically the idea of having alternative sources of energy, because to move into hydrogen straight away is impossible.
“It must be a development which goes towards this. Alternative energy can be e-fuels, it can be a lot of things.
“The opening of alternative energy is for me the most important and that is what is really needed. In 10 years, we could have a battery which is capable of lasting the whole Dakar, you never know.”
Such are the development and running costs associated with green technology, Quandt stresses that manufacturer involvement is a must, whether through factory teams or customer supported operations.
His counterpart at Toyota Gazoo Racing, Glyn Hall, shares a similar view.
“Toyota is very advanced in the hydrogen development, but I think there is a lot of work to do during the next 10 years to get there,” Hall said.
“But of course, the cars have to be running long before 2030 to make it really competitive. We have been looking at the regulations with the ASO for the future and there are many new things coming on the horizon which is really quite exciting.”
Hall admits that he is primarily “a chassis guy”, but while Quandt believes hydrogen-only is a no-go area at present, Toyota’s team principal sees things slightly differently.
“There are two important milestones for using hydrogen in a race like the Dakar,” Hall told DirtFish.
“The first is that the fuel range of the cars has to be around 200-300 kilometers from our calculations. So, in terms of safety at this point in time, the cars would need to have a refuel halfway [through the stage], similar to the bikes and the T3.
“If that was in place, then the technology is available right now to be able to race a car on the Dakar actually.
“The actual hydrogen engine as we know it, will generate electricity so the cars will effectively be electric cars. And that’s probably the future.”
The idea of electric off-road cars competing in remote areas of the world obviously leads people to compare Dakar to Extreme E and there may well be scope in the future for a convergence of technology.
The likelihood of that happening is uncertain, with Extreme E yet to make its competitive debut, but one thing which is certain is the need for manufacturers to get in on the act.
“I think you need to be connected to a manufacturer right at this point in time because this technology is new and developing all the time,” said Hall.
Quandt added: “Glyn is in the same boat as we are, and we both said this at the Think Tank, we need manufacturers to be able to do this, yes.
“Honestly, it would be great to have different manufacturers with different ways of doing it. I think it would be nice if we had two or three manufacturers, or four manufacturers coming with different concepts.
“There are plenty of options, and it’s a super playground, the regulations could give you an incredible opportunity to showcase what is possible.”
Since its inception, the Dakar Rally has gained a reputation for being a ‘public laboratory’ where machines are tested in the most extreme environments.
So, perhaps it’s only fitting that with motorsport keen to lead the way on responsible alternatives to the combustion engine, the Dakar is aiming to push the boundaries of possibility with its ambitious goals.