The world’s most famous off-road rally raid—known simply as the Dakar—kicked off on Friday, January 5, with the usual fanfare and lineup of bikes, cars, trucks, and classics, featuring some of the most recognizable names in motorsport. However, the two-week endurance race across the Arabian peninsula is off to a rocky start after only three stages. Several of the top contenders in the motorcycle class have exited the rally, and injuries, crashes, and mechanical problems have bedeviled some of the best teams across the categories.
Currently occupying the overall top spot among the bikes is Motswana Ross Branch, riding for the Indian Hero Motorsports team (he’s never won a Dakar before), and the Audi factory-backed RS Q E-Tron E2 EVs of two-time WRC champion Carlos Sainz and Swede Mattias Ekström are chasing the Toyota of Saudi driver Yazeed Al Rajhi for first place in the Ultimate car class. My favorite classification is the Classics, and this year features some of the most storied Porsches ever to have turned a wheel in the Dakar, including the “Martini” and “Rothmans”-liveried 911 and 959 Paris-Dakar racers from the 1980s.
The motorcycle field is wide open as some of the riders expected to take podium spots this year have already either suffered major crashes, dropping them far down the leaderboard, or have withdrawn entirely due to injury. The withdrawals include Hero’s Sebastian Bühler, 2022 Dakar champion and two-time winner Sam Sunderland, and Honda factory rider Tosha Schareina. However, Honda’s Pablo Quintanilla and Husqvarna’s Luciano Benavides (the current World Rally Raid Champion) are still in the hunt, and American Ricky Brabec (the 2020 Dakar winner), riding for Honda as well, sits in third. The other American with championship aspirations is Utahn Skyler Howes, who finds himself out of the top ten in 13th place after a big crash in the prologue stage. He finished third in 2023.
The Dakar continues to frustrate nine-time World Rally Championship winner Sebastian Loeb as his Red Bull-sponsored Prodrive Hunter prototype has suffered multiple punctures, slowing his progress to a snail’s pace. He has finished second in the Dakar three times but has never won the rally, and it looks like he’ll have a lot of ground to make up if he hopes to be on the podium at all in 2024. Seb is 24 minutes off the pace in ninth.
You can follow the progress of the Dakar rally live via their website, which has just about all the information you can handle about the race and includes extended daily recap videos that feature some of the best motorsports commentaries anywhere.
Read more: What is the Dakar Rally?
Images: Dakar Rally 2024
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