First of all, happy new year, everyone! Secondly, if you've been waiting either anxiously or patiently for the 2024 Dakar Rally, it's very nearly here. All the action of one of the world's premiere annual motorsport events kicks off on January 5, 2024, which is just a few days away as I write this. This year's event runs through January 19, 2024, when new champions (or possibly returning champions; you never know) will be crowned.

To get there, though, the competitors will need to have multiple skills honed and ready. One of the most important of these is knowing how to load and read the Dakar Rally roadbook. It's packed with useful information about the route, but knowing how to read it is crucial in order to get where you need to go. For a start, the terminology and abbreviations are in French (which probably isn't surprising, but is nevertheless useful information).

Luckily, the Dakar Rally has a handy lexicon to break down the details. For the more visual learners, two-time Dakar Rally winner Sam Sunderland and Red Bull have put together a helpful video that shows both how navigation works, and also what riding five kilometers using a Dakar Rally roadbook looks like in the cockpit.

2024 Dakar Rally Route

The 2024 Dakar Rally route

There's a lot to take in, so anyone who's unfamiliar with reading a roadbook should probably take plenty of time to get comfortable with reading all the symbols both quickly and accurately.

As Sunderland points out in his rather understated way, successful Dakar riders have to be able to read the book, adjust course if they go off-piste (or off the expected track), and of course also pay attention to the conditions around them. All of this is, of course, in addition to going quickly and/or trying to maintain an expected speed for a given section. 

There are subtle differences in how marks are used that you'll also need to note. For example, anywhere between one and three red exclamation points indicates danger on a section. As you'd probably guess, one exclamation point is less serious danger than three exclamation points. However, a red box used around either the exclamation points or the entire line of the roadbook indicates a wider, more significant period of danger for riders to be aware of.

For dangers that occur on the first line of a page of a roadbook, the Dakar Rally roadbook planners give a warning in red at the foot of the previous page, so it's not a surprise.

In 2024, Dakar Rally organizers will distribute the day's Roadbook the morning of each stage to keep things fair. Some four-wheeled classes will be using the new electronic roadbook rather than the classic paper one described here, but the good old paper roll is what the motorcyclists will be using.

We'll link to the official Dakar Rally Roadbook information page in our Sources. In the meantime, be sure to check out Sam Sunderland's video here if you want to know more and/or see his navigation overview course in action.

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