MOTORSPORT

The world's toughest rally continues to deliver on action front

The world's most notoriously difficult rally is underway, and the initial stages provide an insight into this year's challenging landscape.

Jordan Schmidt
January 9, 2024
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The world's toughest rally continues to deliver on the action front

 

The world's most notoriously difficult rally is underway, and the initial stages provide an insight into this year's challenging landscape.

 

Rally racing plays a significant role in South African motorsport, and the highlight of the year is seeing our local boys take on the desert in the world's racing spotlight. This year is a particularly special one, with Toyota's biggest pool of cars, Audi's continuation with their controversial electric cars, and many other topics of conversation. So before we touch on the desert of Saudi Arabia, let's talk about the field in question.

 

The Dakar is known for its massive number of participants, and this year is no different. With 585 competitors racing in 418 vehicles in total, grouped into their respective classes. The first group is the motorcycles, with 132 starters, 70 cars in the ultimate category, three cars in the stock class and 42 in the challenger class, 10 quad bikes, 36 SSV vehicles, and lastly, 47 trucks.

 

You can't have a rally without including some legends of the past. This year, we will see 78 vehicles racing in the Dakar Classic. These classics will be tested to see if they still have what it takes to tackle this historic event.

 

The last group includes the Mission 1000 challenge. A selection of unique vehicles with alternative power units are showcased while racing in the Dakar. This includes four cars, six bikes, and one truck.

 

The Dakar is an interesting event, as every year we see a large influx of rookies enter the desert for the first time. What continues to surprise us is the addictive effect of the Dakar, with so many legends returning to tackle the desert again. To earn the title of legend, a driver must compete for the tenth time or more. This year, there are 130 rookies and 133 legends.

 

Three days have passed since the initial send-off for the Dakar, and to say that it has been a brutal start would be an understatement. The first stage reflected the dominating ability of the new Hilux, with seven Toyotas in the top ten after the first day. The Audi RS Q E-TRON E2s proved to be a formidable competitor, with rally legend Carlos Sainz placing second in the first stage and the second E-TRON finishing in tenth.

 

With the soft sand, it's become evident that weight is still the main problem for this electric rally car. Another interesting entry that is grabbing attention is the John Cooper Works Mini from the X-Raid Arijus team, finishing fourth after the first stage. Also finding its way onto the leaderboard early on is one of the Century Racing CR6-T, which is one of the cooler-looking cars in the lineup.

 

It was a great start for our TGR local boys as Giniel De Villiers and Dennis Murphy kicked off their 2024 Dakar with a first-day podium in third and Guy David Botterill and Brett Cummings finishing in seventh.

 

The second day of racing covered 655km of tough terrain, where the E-TRON danced its way into first place. The Prodrives found their rhythm in the second stage, securing second and fourth-place finishes, bringing the local favourite, Nasser Al-Attiyah into the top five.

 

With three Audis in the top ten and the ORLEN JIPOCAR TEAM Ford Raptor sneaking into tenth, the second stage proved to be less fortunate for the Toyotas.

 

The third day saw many drivers starting to get into the groove with the return of a TGR Hilux into first with the E-TRON following on its heels. The leading ten continue to diversify, with Century Racing, the Pro Drives, Minis, Audis, and Toyotas all finding a spot in the top ten.

 

So after the third day, the top ten are as follows:

 

1. Car 201, Yazeed Al Rajhi, Overdrive Racing, Toyota Hilux.

2. Car 204, Carlos Sainz, Team Audi Sport, Audi RS Q E-Tron E2.

3. Car 207, Mattias Ekstrom, Team Audi Sport, Audi RS Q E-Tron E2.

4. Car 206, Lucas Moraes, Toyota Gazoo Racing, Toyota Hilux.

5. Car 200, Nasser Al-Attiyah, Nasser Racing, Prodrive Hunter.

6. Car 212, Mathieu Serradori, Century Racing Factory Team, Century CR6-T.

7. Car 231, Romain Dumas, Rebellion Racing, Toyota Hilux.

8. Car 202, Stephane Peterhansel, Team Audi Sport, Audi RS Q E-Tron E2.

9. Car 203, Sebastien Loeb, Bahrain Raid Xtreme, Prodrive Hunter.

10. Car 214, Vaidotas Zala, X-Raid Arijus Team, Mini John Cooper Works Rally Plus.

 

If the first three days are anything to go by, then the 2024 Dakar is going to be a rough ride. All the better for us, as it makes for one highly exciting rally event. We will be covering Dakar day by day, so be sure to stay tuned for the latest.

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