Why Sainz feels 2023 will be a “proper Dakar”

The 45th edition of the Dakar Rally will be the longest in nine years and more challenging


Audi’s Carlos Sainz reckons the increased length of the 2023 Dakar Rally – which begins at the end of this month – will help take the iconic rally raid “back to the good old days”.

Unveiled last week, next year’s Dakar route will be the longest since 2014 when the event was still held in South America, covering nearly 5000km [3106 miles] in special stages across 15 days.

A longer and more challenging itinerary was the feedback given to Dakar event director David Castera from following the 2022 edition and Sainz believes the changes made will prove popular among fellow competitors.

Speaking to DirtFish, Sainz said: “I am quite convinced that the organizers of the Dakar are very clever, they know what they are doing and have proved themselves to organize rallies in the past in Africa and South America, and also in [current location] Saudi Arabia.


“Last year, I think not 100% of people were totally happy with [the route] but my feeling this year is that it is going to be a really proper Dakar.

“I am also so happy to see David Castera down there with the road book because he knows what the Dakar should be.

“There’s no better guarantee that the Dakar will be good than having David down there doing the road book himself, so I am sure the rally will go back to how it should be.”

A key part of making the Dakar better for competitors according to Sainz centers around the often-contentious digital road book, which has proven tricky at best to interpret correctly.

Sainz and navigator Lucas Cruz shipped nearly two hours after getting lost on the second stage of the 2022 edition, all but extinguishing their chances of victory very early on.

Sainz isn’t afraid of difficult navigation, but the Audi driver has called for less “artificial difficulties” on this year’s route.

“You always try to learn from the past, and with the road book in the past three years, the Dakar has introduced a new way of interpreting the road book,” said Sainz.

“They tried to make it more difficult, they tried to put in some new hidden waypoints which can be on small tracks which are not in the road book. The navigation has gone a little bit too far in my opinion because, as we saw last year, you can lose two hours and 95% of cars get lost.

Rally Dakar, Test Marokko Audi RS Q-etron E2 Test Marokko

“This is not navigation, to artificially make difficulties has gone too far. You can get lost for 20, 30 minutes but not for two hours. You can go back to the last point in the road book, but you still can’t find your way because the road book is wrong.

“So, what I hope this year will be like, is that the navigation will be tough but not artificial and something out of our control.”

Perhaps the biggest upheaval in the everyday life of a crew in 2023 will be the lack of neutralization zones in special stages. Competitors used to be able to stop for around 15 minutes in a controlled area in the middle of a stage where they could take on food, energy as well as a toilet break.

This has been removed for 2023, meaning crews will have to drive non-stop from the start to the finish of stages.

This, according to Sainz, will bring its own challenges while also taking the rally to how it was run in the past.

“I think the fact that we are not stopping in the middle of the stages will make things a little bit more difficult,” Sainz said.

“The last couple of years we have been very used to stopping in the neutralization zone, where we could rest, make a pee-pee, drink a little bit and have some food. All of that will not be possible this year so I am trying to prepare myself right mentally for that because I haven’t done that for some years. So, it will be a case of trying to remember how to approach it.

“It’s back to the old style of Dakar, which is many kilometers in the first week; then in the second week it seems to be fewer kilometers but, we all know that when the Dakar stage is shorter, say 200km, that means that this 200km will be very tough.

“So, we all know that it’s going to be the case in the second week.”

Words:Stephen Brunsdon