Words: Georgia Wells
The 40th edition of the biggest, and perhaps most infamous, off-road event in the world will begin tomorrow, January the 6th. The 2018 Dakar Rally is set to be one of the most challenging of recent years with several all-new stages, some relentlessly long days, and plenty of climatic and terrain changes along the way. Let’s take a look at what’s in store for the 167 bik-ers entered into this year’s two-week race….
The start line will be situated in Peru’s capital, Lima, and whopping crowds promise to greet the competitors with a colourful carnival atmosphere as they welcome the Dakar back to Peru for the first time in 5 years. But far from just a ceremonial start, the riders will be plunged straight into the first sand stage of the event on the way to Pisco; although this special is merci-fully short at just 31km, with a further 242km of liaison.
But by Day 2 things will be starting to get very serious indeed as four days of sand, with some previously un-ridden sections, await this year’s hopefuls. Experience and strong navigational skills will likely win out over blistering pace as we can expect some heart-breaking early exits during the opening five days of the rally.
By the sixth day (January 12th) the remaining riders will enjoy their well-deserved Rest Day, but a cruel twist awaits as Days 7 & 8 make up the first Marathon of this year’s event. This not only means an overnight stay in a remote, often basic, bivouac but also zero mechanical assistance – even for the factory riders. Camaraderie, co-operation, and know-how will come into play for the now exhausted competitors. If they can nurse their bikes and themselves through the Marathon, they’ll have to tackle the longest stage of the rally around the dastardly difficult Uyuni salt flats – 498km of special and 87km of liaison!
The second week of the rally, whilst also containing more dunes, will be largely comprised of Argentina’s frighteningly fast farm tracks, and as riders aim to make up any lost time these will make for spectacular, if nerve-wracking, viewing.
This year it seems harder than ever to predict who will be on the top step when the rally draws to its close in Cordoba on January 20th. KTM will be out to bag their 17th consecutive victory with their formidable line-up com-prising Sam Sunderland, Toby Price, Antoine Meo, Matthias Walkner and Laia Sanz.
With Price winning in 2016, Sunderland winning in 2017, Walkner finishing 2nd in 2017, Meo having won 5 World Enduro titles, and 18-times World Enduro & Trial Champion Sanz having finished every Dakar she’s ever en-tered, it looks more than likely that it’ll be an orange bike taking gold in two weeks’ time.
But Rockstar Husqvarna’s Pablo Quintanilla stands a great chance of bag-ging his first Dakar victory; the likeable Chilean having won the Rallies Championship in 2016 & 2017. And the Japanese factory teams, Honda and Yamaha, will be desperate to win for the first time in more than 20 years. In the red corner Spain’s Joan ‘BangBang’ Barreda and Argentina’s Kevin Be-navides will likely lead the charge for Honda, the team suffering a pre-race blow as regular front runner Paulo ‘Speedy’ Gonçalves was ruled out due to injury. And in the blue corner sand specialist Adrien Van Beveren will thrill fans as he pushes his WR450F to the limit.
Surprises could also come from the smaller teams; Himoinsa KTM’s all Spanish line-up includes the likes of World Enduro champion Ivan Cervan-tes and 2017 Dakar podium sitter Gerard Farres – watch out for them!
Perhaps more than ever, this year’s route will challenge even the fastest and most experienced riders, from the new dunes ready to catch them out at the beginning, to coping with the Marathon stages, to keeping calm on the pacey run into the finish, the eventual winner will need to be truly multi-faceted, as well as fortunate, in order to tame the 2018 edition of this in-credible race! And even as mere fans of the legendary 9000km rally, which you can love one moment and hate the next, we are in for a rollercoaster of a ride; hold on tight!
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