I find myself sitting in Saudi Arabia at the biggest off-road rally race in the world, Dakar. But, when I tell my friends and family where I am, they all repeat the word as if hearing it for the first time. And that’s because, for many of them, they are.
For 44 years, Dakar has been synonymous with adventure. Intriguing and attracting the most extreme off-road explorers and motor enthusiasts from countries around the world, the race has earned the title of the most demanding and iconic rally for a reason. It’s no small feat to win a race like the Dakar, a race that typically lasts 10 to 14 days, taking competitors some 8,000 kilometers through some of the world’s most extreme terrain, but when do you you ? Well, that makes you an instant legend.
Each year, hundreds of competitors test their skills – and their luck – in the race. A race known to break even the most experienced riders, pushing everyone who enters to their limits. When it was created, the rally started in Paris and ended in Dakar. Today, however, the rally finds itself in Saudi Arabia after a brief stint in South America after moving away from Africa for security reasons.
No matter where the rally is, the currency is always the same. “A challenge for those who leave. A dream for those who stay.” This year’s course totaled 8,404 kilometres, or 5,222 miles, over 13 days and 12 competition stages. It was a race and a course that would have made the founder, the French motorcyclist Thierry Sabine, proud.
A total of 409 racing vehicles took part in the rally across five vehicle categories – motorcycles, quads, cars, SSVs and trucks – this year. France was the most represented country with 170 participants, ahead of Spain (74) and the Netherlands (64). It was also a race that saw more American competitors than ever before, with seven competitors in four categories.
The Americans attack Dakar
It wasn’t until 2005, 27 years after the race’s inception, that Americans began to take notice.
Thanks to NASCAR icon Robby Gordon, Dakar began to gain notoriety in the United States. But, only reaching the podium once after finishing 3rd in 2009, this notoriety was short-lived. Gordon may have cemented his reputation as the rally’s top contender, becoming the first American to win a stage in the car class, but the Dakar name did not stick.
Around the same time as Gordon, Mark Miller was the only other American to make a name for himself in a car, with four top-five finishes between 2006 and 2010 and a 6th-place finish in 2011.
However, fast forward to the final few years, and you’ll find that the Americans have redeemed themselves in the bike and SSV categories – finally claiming first place in both in 2020. Ricky Brabec took first place on a bike, and Casey Currie a first place in the SSV category. With two Americans winning gold, the spotlight has returned to the world’s toughest race.
Brabec competed again this year, finishing 7th in the bike category overall with Johnny Campbell as coach and mentor. Campbell, a 17-time winner of the Baja 1000 – a race more widely recognized in America than Dakar – is no stranger to what it takes to compete in a rally like Dakar. He himself first raced the Paris-Dakar course in 2001, finishing 8th that year, then changed categories to be Gordon’s co-driver in 2012 and 2015 when they were the only American team at the rally.
After missing a first place in 2021, the Americans have returned to the SSV category podium this year, thanks to Austin Jones. Jones clinched first place overall in the SSV T4 class, making him the youngest of the three champions to do so. Jones turns 26 this week.
Beyond the podium, another big victory for the American contenders in the 2022 Dakar Rally came from 19-year-old Seth Quintero, who broke the record for the most stage wins on a Dakar with a record 11 stage wins. Despite the streak, Quintero’s second stage broken differential issues put him out of contention for the SSV T3 class podium, putting him 16 hours behind his overall time.
Growing popularity of the SSV category
With two big SSV class wins in 2022 from Jones and Quintero, plus Currie’s win in 2020 (Currie and Jones both won as part of the Can-Am Factory team), you can’t help but notice the rise in popularity of this class vehicle. A class that was only introduced in 2018.
Less demanding than being on a bike and cheaper than building a custom rally-ready car or truck, the SSV category is growing the fastest thanks to its relatively affordable price and low barrier. at the entrance. (The growth of the category also coincides with the growth of the SSV market in the United States)
When it comes to racing in a rally like the Dakar, to put things into perspective, calling on the assistance of a team like South Racing, which had the biggest presence at the bivouac this year with 19 SSVs , expect a starting price of €235,000. . A cost not far from what it takes to run a rally like the Dakar the time to adapt a Can-Am Maverick X3 or similar SSV for this type of race, to hire dedicated mechanics, to transport parts of spares and tyres, to have a race support team ready and plan accommodation for the duration of the two week rally.
So while Americans may not yet know about Dakar, the time will come thanks to more Americans than ever making a name for themselves in the world’s toughest off-road rally race.