Dakar Rally purists may claim that the famous, grueling overland race has never been the same since it was relocated to South American deserts, but it’s difficult to deny that the 14-stage endurance test still remains one of the most taxing all-terrain rides of the circuit.
On January 7, 2019, 534 competitors piloting motorcycles, quads, cars (including UTVs), SxS vehicles, and trucks will begin the 5,000 km (over 3,000 mile) course from sea level to 5,000 meters elevation, over sand dunes and rock, including 3,000 kilometers of particularly intense special stages that will also subject participants to the extreme weather conditions found at dramatically different altitudes.
Uncharacteristically, this year’s Dakar will be held within the borders of one country-Peru-in response to the withdrawal from the race of neighboring countries Chile, Argentina, and Bolivia, a development that will reduce border complications and political contentions that have long-confronted past rallies.
Things to watch for are the rookie class, the largest in the race’s history, the women’s class, which, at 17, is at its highest, and a rapidly-growing SxS division. As well, look for the 34 brave entrants in the “Original by Motul” class, formerly known as the Malle Moto class who can only service their vehicles with the limited amount of supplies that fit into a single small trunk (French: malle).
Another addition to the race is the “half marathon”, a second chance class that draws from the cars, trucks and SxS’s that have pulled themselves out of the race during the opening half of the rally. This “parallel competition” starts up after the half-time rest day but as a separate classification with orange plates and no chance to be included within the top 25 starts.
All-in-all, the 2019 Dakar Rally promises to be an intense 15 days where both human and machine must subsist in the most punishing physical conditions. We’ll be checking in regularly.