Toughest race on Earth

Brace yourself as the Dakar kicks off

It's an annual spectacle that keeps motorsports fans gripped during the dull days of every new year

01 January 2021 - 09:09
The Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Hilux team will give it a bash in the deserts of Saudi Arabia with hopes of overall Dakar victory with a restyled and better developed Hilux.
The Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Hilux team will give it a bash in the deserts of Saudi Arabia with hopes of overall Dakar victory with a restyled and better developed Hilux.
Image: Supplied

Looking back, the 2020 Dakar that was held in Saudi Arabia and won by Spaniard Carlos Sainz in a Mini JCW X-Raid buggy was a good outing by statistics. There were plenty of big-name racers competing, including 13-time winner Stephane Peterhansel, SA’s Giniel de Villiers, Nani Roma, Nasser Al-Attiyah and former Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

All the abovementioned bar Alonso will be in contention for 2021 and the competitive fires will be stoked further by the return of multiple WRC champion Sebastian Loeb who last contested the Dakar between the 2016-19 period.

Interesting to note is that the oldest contestant in the 2020 race was 73 years old, the youngest turned 18 during the event and there were 13 female contestants in total. The event was marred only by the fatal accidents of Portuguese motorcyclists Paulo Gonçalves on stage 7 and Dutch motorcyclist Edwin Straver on stage 11.

The Dakar is also on the brink of a powertrain transformation. Audi will enter the 2022 Dakar with a new racing prototype powered by an electric powertrain with an energy converter. This occurrence will mark a return to international rallying of the German and its first time ever entering the Dakar.

Carlos Sainz will be back to defend his 2020 championship title.
Carlos Sainz will be back to defend his 2020 championship title.
Image: Reuters

In 2023 another revolution will take place when five-time Dakar winner Cyril Despres and Mike Horn will enter a hydrogen-powered vehicle while NEOM, an electric vehicle that’s currently in development will also make its Dakar debut in 2023. But preparations for the 2021 installation which kicks off on 3 January 2021 and ends on 15 January 2021 are now in full swing and competitors will have to contend with directional changes for the coming race.

For the next race that kicks off on Sunday January 3, Jeddah city once more becomes the start and finish points thanks to a route change. Furthermore, the fastest sectors, where the difference comes down to raw power, have been trimmed, this according to Dakar officials. All seems in order however the ongoing pandemic is a growing concern.

There’s was a real threat of air travel blocks due to many European countries experiencing second waves and fresh lockdowns being implemented, though here in SA President Cyril Ramaphosa has updated new regulations that seemingly will not thwart the travel plans.

Dakar competitors have arrived and they will be required to take a full Covid-19 test before taking part and will have to adhere to strict safety measures throughout the competition.

There will be four locally-built Hiluxes competing in the 2021 iteration of the most gruesome race in the world.
There will be four locally-built Hiluxes competing in the 2021 iteration of the most gruesome race in the world.
Image: supplied

At the Toyota Gazoo Racing SA HQ in Kyalami the final steps of the preparation phase have been completed and the teams will line up for the start. Team Principal Glyn Hall leads four Hilux teams driven and navigated by Giniel de Villiers (SA)/Alex Haro (Spain), Nasser Al-Attiyah (Qatar)/Mathieu Baumel (France), Henk Lategan (SA)/Brett Cummings (SA) and Shameer Variawa (SA)/ Dennis Murphy (SA).

The 2021 racing Toyota Hilux now reflects the latest version of the production Toyota Hilux with a bolder front bumper. “We have won the race before and we can certainly do it again,” replied Hall to questions about preparations and the fortunes of the Toyota Hilux winning this year.

There are seven SA racers entering the 2021 Dakar, including Taye Perry, who is one of the female racers entered and is partnered with navigator Brian Baragwanath. The East London pair will be competing in the Cross Country category in a Racing Century CR6 vehicle.

Another local who is competing in 2021 is Juan Mohr. He has a wealth of Dakar and other racing experience. ​ 


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