Who to watch out for in the 2021 Dakar
This year’s Dakar will be running under revised rules, ensuring less outright pace and relying more on strategy. That said, there will still be quite a bit of action; so here’s a short list of potential show-stealers
The 42nd running of the Dakar, and the second time it is being run in Saudi Arabia, will consist of 12 stages, (the first of which is already done), along with a rest day on Saturday, January 9. The competitors participate in bikes, cars, Trucks, SSV (side-by-side vehicles) and quads, and as always, the competition is tough as nails.
Taking a cue, then, from the various drivers and riders competing in the 2021 Dakar, here’s a teaser of who to watch out for this time around, categorised for your ease of reading:
Motorcycles have traditionally been among the tougher categories, not half because the riders are exposed to the elements, and in harm’s way should anything go wrong. Besides, the very spectacle of a motorcycle rallyist going full tilt, front wheel in the air, is inherently exciting to look at. Besides, the Indians participating in the 2021 Dakar are all on motorcycles, but more on that later.
We kick off the list with Toby Price, part of the Red Bull KTM Factory Team. This will be his seventh consecutive Dakar outing. However, what sets him apart is that in six participations, the Australian rider has secured five top-three finishes, including victory in the 2016 and 2019 editions. So strong is his determination that he won the 2019 Dakar riding the final stage while nursing a broken wrist!
However, the 2020 Dakar brought with itself a new champion in the form of Ricky Brabec from the Monster Energy Honda Team. Ricky was instrumental in breaking KTM’s 18-year dominance, and as he returns to Saudi Arabia for the sixth time, he’ll no doubt be doing his best to snatch yet another win, something just seven bike riders (Cyril Neveu, Gaston Rahier, Stephane Peterhansel, Richard Sainct, Fabrizio Meoni, Cyril Despres and Marc Coma) have done so far.
Moving now to the Indian riders; the Dakar has traditionally been participated by the Hero MotoSports Team Rally and TVS Racing Rally Factory teams. However, this time around TVS called off its Dakar campaign at seemingly the last moment, which meant Kerala’s Harith Noah, who finished stage 1 at a commendable 31st spot, did so as a privateer, albeit backed by the Sherco Rally Factory Team.
Stephane Peterhansel is a name to reckon with; the winningest Dakar competitor, he has bagged a total of 13 wins, six of which has been on two wheels! For the 2021 Dakar, his 32nd year of participation, the veteran racer will be trying to wrest away the title from Carlos Sainz (not to be confused with his son, the Formula 1 racer from Scuderia Ferrari) who won the 2020 Dakar, his fourth win since his 2006 Dakar debut.
And finally, pitting a challenge to both Sainz and Peterhansel will be Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Nasser Al Attiyah, who himself has three wins under his belt, along with four P2 and one P3 finish in his 16 attempts (excluding 2021).
A kind of wild card entry, though not in the strictest definition of the word, will be Ignacio Casale. The Chilean has, so far, participated astride quads, securing three career wins (including the 2020 Dakar), 21 stage wins, and also holds the record for the most fastest times in single Dakar, seven, in 2014. He’s taken a massive step up for 2021, though, climbing behind the ’wheel of a Tatra Phoenix truck as part of the Tatra Buggyra Racing truck team.
And as always, any mention of the trucks category is incomplete without mentioning the usual suspects: the blokes at Kamaz Master. The Kamaz team holds the record for not only the most wins (17), but also the most stage wins (158) which is almost four times that of the next competitor, Tatra, which is just 43.
And all the hype is not without substance as even in 2021 , as the top two spots at the end of stage 2 are held by the Kamaz Master teams of Dmitry Sotnikov, Ruslan Akhmadeev, and Ilgiz Akhmetzianov, and Airat Mardeev, Dmitry Svistunov and Akhmet Galiautdinov.
In the SSV category, Dakar veteran Reinaldo Varela will be doing his best to add to his win from 2018, something he hasn’t been able to do with a P3 finish in 2019 and P9 finish in 2020. Giving him tough competition, though, will be Snag Racing team’s Sergei Kariakin and South Racing Can Am’s Francisco Lopez.
The former was the winner at the 2017 Dakar, and missed out on the win last year. Hence, he would definitely be putting in his best too. The latter, meanwhile, has experience on both bikes (coming in third at the 2010 and 2013 Dakar), as well as SSVs, in which he won the 2019 Dakar and came in third last year.
Nicholas Caviglioso, the Dakar 2019 winner in the quad category will surely be out for blood this time around, mostly considering his biggest challenger, Ignacio Casale, is competing in the trucks category this year, while his other challenger, last year’s P2 finisher Simon Vitse, will be the co-driver with Dominique Housieaux in the SSV category.