Dakar 2020 promises to be another thrilling year as the race moves into its third chapter in Saudi Arabia after a decade in South America. The event had of course raced from Paris to Dakar since its 1980s inception with one race to Cape Town too, before shifting to SudAm after political unrest in North Africa, but 2020 promises an all new adventure in the Arabian desert.
So who will win? Well, Dakar has drawn the cream of the racing crop as usual with World F1 and Rally champions, Le Mans winners and the best from Dakar’s history on two and four wheels, in the car, bike, side-by-side, quad and truck categories all vying to become the first winners of the new Saudi adventure.
On the car race, there is little doubt that South Africa’s all-star Gazoo Toyota team heads to the Saudi Desert as favourites — not only do Qatari Nasser Al-Attiyah and French Navigator Matthieu Baumel arrive as reigning champions, but SA Dakar hero Giniel de Villiers, who drives with Spanish co-driver Alex Haro Bravo this year, won for Volkswagen on the Dakar’s move to the Americas last time out. Will the wiley driver from Stellenbosch do it again?
There will of course be two South African-built more factory Hiluxes for double world F1 champion and Le Mans winner Fernando Alonso sharing his SA-built Toyota with multiple bike winner Dakar Marc Coma, while the Dutch driver Bernhard Ten Brinke and Belgian Tom Colsoul must be hoping that the continental shift will deliver some better luck and well-deserved results.
There’s also a fleet of privately-run SA-built Hiluxes, including and Saudi home hero Yazeed Al Rajhi and Russian Konstantin Zhiltsov, Dutch flyer Erik Van Loon and French navigator Sebastien Delaunay, Chile’s Boris Garafulic driving with Portuguese navigator Filipe Palmeiro and Lithuanian Benediktas Vanagas and Pole Sebastian Rozwadowski among the Hilux fleet.
While Toyota has the numbers, it will be no gimme. Mini’s Dakar 2020 team includes buggies for France’s ‘Mr Dakar’ Stephane Peterhansel driving with wife Andrea for the first time this year and Spanish Dakar winner, former World Rally Champion Carlos Sainz and Lucas Cruz. Add a few 4x4 Minis for Argentine duo Orlando Terranova and Bernardo Graue and Polish crew Jakub Przygonski and Timo Gottschalk, among others.
Adding a little variety are danger men and Emirati Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi and Frenchman Xavier Panseri in a Peugeot 3008 DKR, Czech crew Martin Prokop and Viktor Chytka in a Ford Raptor and Spanish pair Nani Roma and Daniel Oliveras Carreras driving a Borgward this year, while Chinese hopes rest on Wei Cahn and Min Liao in a Geely.
Other notable car entries include three-time Le Mans 24 winner Romain Dumas who returns in a buggy, Czech Dakar truck racer Martin Kolomy races in the cars in a Ford Raptor and Dutch twins Tim Alfa and Tom Romeo Coronel will share driving and note-reading duties in their Corvette powered Jefferies Baja buggy.
From a South African point of view, TreasuryOne Racing’s 2018 rookie winner Hennie de Klerk returns alongside Johan Smalberger in his new Red-Lined Nissan Navara while Dubai-based British Sabertooth Racing pair Thomas Bell and Patrick McMurren race a similar SA-developed machine and there’s a most interesting dark horse in Frenchmen Mathieu Serradori and Belgian Fabian Lurquin’s Gauteng-built Century Racing buggy.
Moving on to the side-by side class, Can Am quartet, 2019 winners Francisco Lopez Contardo and Juan Pablo Latrach Vinagre, Spaniards Gerard Farres Guell and Armand Monleon, Brazilians Reinaldo Varela and Gustavo Gugelmin and Americans Casey Currie and Sean Berriman start as favourites. 2017 car rookie winner, Zimbabwean Conrad Rautenbach and Portuguese Pedro Bianchi Prata could well prove a thorn in their sides in a Zephyr.
Onto two wheels, the focus there is whether KTM can continue its incredible run of back-to-back wins with factory quartet, reigning champion Aussie Toby Price and previous winners, Austrian Matthias Walkner and Brit Sam Sunderland defending that glory. They will have the likes of French Yamaha riders Adrien Van Beveren, Marquis Xavier de Soultrait and Argentine Franco Caimi and Husqvarna men Chilebellan Pablo Quintanilla and US rider Andrew Short on their case.
Honda has once again put together a huge effort as it strives to overcome its terrible luck of the past few years with a multinational squad including Argentine Kevin Benavides, Portuguese rider Paulo Goncalves, Californian Ricky Brabec, Spaniard Joan Barreda Bort, Chilean Jose Ignacio Florimo and a dark horse on South African Aaron Mare, all out to get that elusive win.
Adding variety up front on two wheels, Sherco riders, Frenchmen Michael Metge and Johnny Aubert and Spain's Lorenzo Sanatalino, Oriol Mena on a Hero and KTM privateers, Spanish lady hero Laia Sanz, Luciano Benavides, Botswana’s Ross Branch and Slovak Stefan Svitko should make up the lead posse.
Five other Southern African bike entries include first African ladies ever to race the Dakar on motorcycles, KTM riders Kirsten Landman and Taye Perry, Malle Moto iron men, Port Edward’s Stuart Gregory and Wessel Bosman and Zimbabwean rookie Graeme Sharp, all riding KTMs.
Quad action should see Chilean 2018 winner Ignacio Casale back in action, Pole Rafal Sonik, Frenchman Alexandre Giroud, Paraguyan Nelson Augusto Sanabria Galeano and Argentine Manuel Andujar fighting it out up front, all on Yamahas.
Dakar is not Dakar without its racing trucks and that can be expected to be a pivotal battle once again. Heading the charge as usual, the Russian Kamaz army of Eduard Nikolaev, Evgeni Iakovlev and Vladimir Rybakov, Dmitry Sotnikov, Russlan Akhmadeev Ilgiz Akhmetzianov and Andrey Karginov, Andrey Mokeev and Igor Leonov will take on the Czech Tatras of Ales Loprais, Petr Pokora and Khalid Alkendi and Martin Soltys, Tomas Sikola and David Schovanek.
Add the Belarusian MAZ attack comprising Siarhei Viazovich, Pavel Haranin, Anton Zaparoshchanka and Aleksandr Vasilevski, Dzmitry Vikhrenka and Vitali Murylev, while Iveco’s campaign includes trucks for Czech Martin Macik, Frantisek Tomasek and David Svanda and Dutch crew Janus van Kasterend, Arek Rodewald and Marcel Snijders, with the Renault charge led by Martin van Den Brink, Wouter de Graaff and Mitchel van den Brink and Gert Huzink, Rob Buursen and Martin Roesink.
About Dakar 2020
Dakar 2020 will cover 7800km, of which more than 5000km are racing miles. The race starts with 319km of racing over dunes and stones between Jeddah and Al Wajh Sunday 5 January. Then its off to Neom on Day 2 and a romp around the dunes there on day 3 — the second half of the bike marathon stage, before 453km to Al Ula, 353km to Ha’il and 478km to the rest day at Riyadh.
Week 2 starts with the longest 546km run to Wadi Al-Dawasir Sunday 12 January, before a 474km loop around the village on Monday and a 415km race to Haradh Tuesday. That is followed by the 913km no-service car Marathon stage comprising 534km of the finest dunes to Shubaytah and 375km back to Haradh, before the final 374km sting in the tail to the 17 January finish at the new Qiddiya complex near Riyadh.