Marking the first round of the 2022 FIM World Rally-Raid Championship and awarding extra points due to its classification as an FIM Marathon Rally, the 44th edition of the Dakar is building up to be more important than ever. Covering 12 stages from January 1 to January 14, and totalling close to 8,000 kilometres, the race promises to provide the ultimate test of endurance, speed, and navigation as it travels through the Saudi desert.
Today, the 1st of January, the caravan for the 44th Dakar sets out from Jeddah to Ha’il, with the return to a traditional date for an innovative and unprecedented stage on the Dakar. Motorcycle competitors face a new development in 2022: a short 19-kilometre qualifying special stage. Everyone will have to fight for their place over the short distance against the clock. Though customary in the FIA World Championship car category, this will be a first on the Dakar for everybody. The times achieved on the special will be used to determine the starting orders for the following day and will produce an initial classification.
The 15 quickest riders will be able to choose their place among the first 15 starting positions the following day. The quickest rider will have his choice in regards to starting preference which is always an important strategy as opening the way can be a very tricky task.
“After all the work we have done on the new bike, it’s really important to give it a final test in the sort of terrain we’re going to face. I enjoyed the shakedown, and the bike feels really good – I immediately had a good connection with the bike and was able to test a lot of things. The bike is definitely on-point with the suspension and the engine and everything. Now it’s time to get everything prepared, focus on the race, and start the show.”
Dakar legend and five-time winner Marc Coma has been appointed special adviser for KTM during the fortnight in Saudi Arabia.
The KTM “dream team” decked out in Red Bull colours is made up of three former Dakar winner with Australian Toby Price (the winner in 2016 and 2019) alongside Benavides after signing a new two-year contract.
A year recovering from injury saw Toby Price off his bike for much of the 2021 season. However, now close to being fully fit, the Aussie is confident that the testing and development done to the new KTM 450 RALLY over the course of the year will pay off, Price is very much focused on securing his third victory at the Dakar.
“The Red Bull KTM bike is feeling really good at the moment and I’m just super keen to get the race underway now. The event itself is looking like it’s going to be a really tough 12 days in the desert and a massive test as per usual. I need to make sure I stay consistent, try and make it to the rest day in a good position and then see what the second week brings.”
After the trials and tribulations of COVID-19 both Benavides and Price made their return to competition last October for the Rallye du Maroc. While at the Rallye du Maroc, Matthias Walkner grabbed the title of world champion, even before the finale.
“I think I don’t have so much pressure because I’ve had a really good season and I have the world championship title in my pocket, but of course our main goal is again to stay on the top in the Dakar. If I can continue again in a top three position it would be amazing. Right now, I feel super, super excited and motivated, I think more than ever, because it may be my last Dakar because my contract after this Dakar is finished”.
Danilo Petrucci, recently retired from MotoGP and a surprise guest who will enjoy the much sought-after status of official rider, is ready to seize the unique opportunity of a radical change in style, after the Italian’s 169 starts in the MotoGP!
However, this reconversion started in an extraordinary manner, with a broken ankle on 8th December during training followed by an initial positive COVID test result on Saudi soil that was soon revealed to be a false positive after a blood test!
The Italian has already started to feel the heat even before the desert, which he will discover in the coming days. Nevertheless, at the age of 31 years, the track biker can point to genuine off-road experience which perhaps may allow him to become the best rookie in 2022…
“After a really difficult couple of days I am finally allowed to race. I was on my bike at the shakedown when I received the message that my Covid test had come back positive. Thankfully, a blood test returned a negative result, and I was cleared to compete. I still need to take a lot of care, especially with my ankle, but I’m really looking forward to the race now. I want to say a big thank you to all the team for their help over the past week, too.”
Petrucci is not the only famous road racer to be starting Dakar 2022 as Carlos Checa also joins the desert racers at Dakar for the first time but will be on four wheels.
The official KTM team will not be the only one to start the 44th edition of the Dakar with a new machine. French constructor Sherco, which achieved a 7th-place finish with Lorenzo Santolini in January 2021 when all its bikes made it to the finish of the rally, will also be showing off its new weapon in the desert.
The three official riders will thus now be able to count on a 450 SEF Rally that is s full 12 kilograms lighter, despite the fact that it has three litres’ more fuel capacity. The Nîmes-based brand’s technicians have announced that the machine is 80 per cent modified, with the objectives of greater sharpness and better distribution of weight. However, it is also a more “simplified” machine compared to its initial design which is now nine years old.
In what will be GASGAS Factory Racing’s third official participation in the Dakar Rally, they take former race winner Sam Sunderland and young charger Daniel Sanders into the battle.
Knowing to expect the unexpected at the Dakar, the 2022 edition will mark Sam Sunderland’s ninth start at the prestigious annual event. A previous race winner in 2018, the Brit has an abundance of experience and certainly possesses the skills needed to challenge for a place on the overall podium.
“We’re just one day away from the Prologue and the start of the Dakar so it’s a pretty exciting time! We had a really positive shakedown a couple of days ago, so we’re all set to get things started. The Dakar always throws up some surprises, so it’ll be important to stay focused, keep looking forwards, and stay calm. For sure I’m aiming for a strong result and I think it’s certainly possible to get on the overall podium once again.”
Delivering a highly impressive fourth-place result at the Dakar just under one year ago, the ever-confident Daniel Sanders returns to the race following a solid season competing in the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship in 2021. With the Aussie ultimately claiming a bronze medal in the FIM series, and now armed with even more experience, he has a serious shot of success at the 2022 Dakar.
“The shakedown went really well and it was a good chance to run the bike in, set it up for the race, and make sure everything is spot on for the start. It was good to loosen up the body on the bike a little bit too and shake out the nerves before the serious stuff starts. I felt great on the bike, everything was perfect, and I really can’t wait to get this race underway.”
Luciano Benavides and Skyler Howes will represent Husqvarna Factory Racing with the two-man team set to compete on the new FR 450 Rally.
Crashing out of the 2021 Dakar on stage nine, Luciano Benavides was forced to spend the start of his 2021 season recovering from an injury to his shoulder. Determined to get back on the bike and back racing as soon as possible, the young Argentinian returned to competition at the first round of the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship in Kazakhstan, where he claimed an impressive sixth place overall.
A solid seventh-place result at the Silk Way Rally further increased Benavides’ confidence and he was able to carry that momentum into the Rallye du Maroc where his consistency enabled him to secure another top-six finish. Now, heading into the 2022 Dakar, Luciano is back to full fitness and feels more motivated than ever to secure his best result at the legendary event.
“2021 has been a long, tough year for me. It started well with the Dakar where I had good speed, but then my crash forced me out of the event. It took a lot of rest and training to get my shoulder up to strength, but thankfully I was able to get back on the bike quite early on and begin to build my pace again. The first couple of world championship rounds went ok at Kazakhstan and Silk Way, I was able to slowly build my confidence, but I knew I was a little bit off the pace. We spent a lot of time in the middle of the year developing the new bike and then when we rode it in Morocco it was definitely a big step forward for me. Not only did the bike perform really well, but it also helped me and my confidence – I felt comfortable straight away and from that the speed came more easily. The team have done an incredible job – many hours working and testing and I’m pleased with the result. Now, looking ahead to the next Dakar I’m happy with where I am both mentally and physically, and with my speed. The bike and the team are working really good right now, so I believe we have an excellent package for Dakar and will be able to fight for strong results. For sure, it’s going to be tough as always, but this will be my fifth Dakar and I think I’m better prepared than ever.”
Signing for the Husqvarna factory in April, Skyler Howes competed in his first international event for the team just over one month later at Rally Kazakhstan. The likeable American immediately impressed, converting his speed and enthusiasm into two stage wins.
Gelling well with the team and with the bike, Howes continued to deliver strong performances for the rest of the world championship season, mixing it with the more established racers while also gaining valuable experience along the way. Securing fifth place and finishing as the top privateer at the 2021 Dakar, Skyler is now looking forward to competing at the event for the first time as a fully supported factory rider and will be hoping to make the best use of his excellent navigational skills on the technical terrain while fighting for a top result.
“The year has gone really well for me – it’s been my first season as a factory racer and that has made a huge difference, it’s been great to just focus on my racing, which I feel is reflected in my results. Going into the Dakar in January, I’m definitely more prepared than I ever have been, but at the same time my goals remain the same – give it my all, stay safe, but try to come out the other side with the very best result possible. The Dakar is tough, and you can pretty much guarantee you’re going to have difficult days. The key is to keep looking forward and focus on that final result – that’s what keeps me going and keeps me motivated. The new bike we have been developing throughout the year has been another massive improvement for me. In years past, I’ve just turned up at the Dakar and often ridden a bike for the first time at that event. Now, I’ve been given the chance to not only spend a lot more time on that bike, but also have a massive input into its development. That’s had the effect that I feel really at home on the new FR 450 Rally and I’m looking forward to taking it to Dakar. At the end of the day, I’ll be happy if I give it my all and have fun, hopefully the final result will reflect that too.”
Following on from a highly rewarding season of racing in the 2021 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship, Yamaha’s Monster Energy Yamaha Rally Team takes on Dakar 2022 with Adrien Van Beveren, Ross Branch, and Andrew Short.
Alexandre Kowalski – Yamaha Europe Off-Road Racing Manager
“Entering Dakar 2022 is an exciting time for the team following a whole year of continuous hard work from the mechanics and technicians, and of course the riders who have achieved so much in 2021. Behind the scenes we have developed the bike so much and it has been put to the test throughout the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship. With Ross winning in Kazakhstan and Adrien ending the season as vice world champion, it clearly proves that we are heading in the right direction. Because of the success this year the team spirit is really high, and this is really important at such a long race like the Dakar. Anything can happen at this event, but I know the riders have all worked so hard to build up and prepare themselves in the best possible way. Now, we can look forward to the Dakar with confidence and I have a strong belief that it will be a successful race for the riders and the team as a whole.”
Leading the Monster Energy Yamaha Rally Team into the desert at the 2022 Dakar Rally is Adrien Van Beveren. With his impressive second place finish in the 2021 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship still fresh in his mind, the Frenchman used the entire series as part of his preparations for the 2022 Dakar. Rounding out his highly positive season with three stage wins and a second-place overall result at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge in November, Van Beveren is feeling fit, strong, and is undoubtedly back to his very best.
Adrien Van Beveren
“I’ve just completed my final training sessions ahead of the Dakar and I’m feeling really strong and ready for the race. The whole of 2021 has been great for me. Round by round in the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship I had a solid strategy of being consistent and minimising mistakes. I was able to execute my plan perfectly and end the season as vice world champion, which I was really pleased about for both myself and the team. To avoid some unnecessary pressure, I’m looking at the Dakar as just another race and a continuation of my progress throughout the last year. For sure it is a huge race that everyone in rally focuses on, but I will take it day by day, stage by stage, and apply the same mindset that took me to success in this year’s world championship.”
For Ross Branch, 2021 was something of a learning year in what was only his first full season of rally racing. Demonstrating his capabilities with an impressive win at Rally Kazakhstan, the Botswana native posted impressive stage finishes at all rounds of the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship with a few unfortunate incidents hampering his overall results. Undeterred and with a renewed focus, Ross looks to harness his raw speed to successfully reach the Dakar finish line on January 14.
“This year has flown by, and Dakar is now just around the corner. I’m really excited for it. A fresh start, new stages, and I think it’s going to be a really good race. During the last year the team have been working super-hard and this is really motivating as a rider to see as it just inspires me to put everything that I have into my training and preparation. My goal for the race is to finish each stage. It sounds modest but it’s such a long and wild race where anything can happen. Staying trouble free will be so important and now with my experience from racing all year in 2021, I’m in a really good place mentally ahead of the Dakar. I’ve got a great team behind me, and everything is in place for a successful race. I can’t wait to get started.”
Lining up with his sights set on securing his best ever result at the Dakar Rally is the third and final Monster Energy Yamaha Rally Team rider, Andrew Short. With the American knowing the importance of safely completing each and every stage, as well as how chaotic the first few days of the Dakar can be, the 39-year-old is fully focused on achieving his goal.
“I’m really looking forward to Dakar 2022 and it’ll actually be my fifth time racing the event. For this one I want to beat my best finish of sixth and to do that it’s super important to finish every stage safely. Each year I seem to experience some kind of problem early in the race so my focus will be on getting through week one without any major issues, then I’ll have the option to ramp things up in week two if I need to. Overall, you never really know how this race will go but I’ll be doing everything in my power to ensure the best result possible and have no regrets when the race comes to an end.”
And of course then we have our reigning champions, Honda.Monster Energy Honda Team finished with a historic one-two at the previous Dakar. Undoubtedly, the team’s intention for this 2022 Dakar Rally edition is to achieve a hat-trick of triumphs in this, the most arduous era of the Dakar; one featuring greater competition than ever before. With this objective in mind, the team line up the following squad: Joan Barreda, Ricky Brabec, José Ignacio Cornejo and Pablo Quintanilla. The Monster Energy Honda Team – with former rider Ruben Faria as General Manager – is made up of a total of 26 members from six different countries.
“Everything has been great this year: the team is looking good, we’re working hard and we’re all excited to be here for another edition of the Dakar Rally here in Saudi Arabia. It’s a great desert, a great country to compete in. For me, obviously, the expectations are high: we want to win. The whole team wants to win… There are a lot of people here who could win. For me personally, we are trying to do things right and get to the finish in one piece and without mistakes. Obviously, strategy plays a big part, but it’s difficult when you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. We are fine, the rally starts tomorrow. We’re closing the year great and hoping for a better start to the new year with a place on the podium. Follow us! Wish us all the best.”
“With one day to go until the start of the Dakar and after completing the scrutineering and the shakedown where we had the bikes tested, everything is now relaxed. I feel very good and confident about what is ahead. We’ve had a great season, where we won in Morocco and then pre-season training with the whole team in Chile that has given us a lot of motivation, a lot of desire to go out and compete in this race.”
José Ignacio Cornejo
“We passed the scrutineering and everything is all set to start the Dakar Rally 2022 tomorrow. I am happy and looking forward to starting this edition of the race. We have had a great 2021, with some good training and a lot of teamwork. Both the bike and the team are very solid and I’m happy to be here to kick off another Dakar. Tomorrow we will have the prologue, which will define the starting positions for the first stage. I’m all set to tackle my seventh Dakar.”
“Everything is ready and in good order to take the start. I am very happy because this year I have had a fine season, winning the Andalucía Rally and also the Baja, so we will try to stay on the right track over the opening days of the race and hopefully we will have a great rally.”
Ruben Faria – Monster Energy Honda General Manager
“The first win is the team making it to Jeddah, getting through the PCR test and being all negative. For me, this is already a triumph. We are practically the same team as last year and we have only changed two or three members of the team; we are well organised and with a clear objective in mind. The riders are also in great shape. They have had a very intense build-up to the Dakar with good results and, moreover, without any injuries. They are highly motivated.
“We passed the scrutineering and everything went well. Ricky spoke about his goal at the official press conference and he was very clear: to win the Dakar. And what he said makes sense after winning and finishing runner-up in the previous two editions. Last year, Nacho was in first place with just three days to go when he fell. Now he is highly motivated and feels comfortable on this type of terrain. Joan is probably the fastest of the whole bivouac. Last year he was having a very great race but he had a mishap on the penultimate day and his chances slipped away. Even so, he is always a rider to be reckoned with. Last but not least, Pablo Quintanilla is the new rider in the team although he has already completed in two races, winning the Rallye du Maroc. I think we have four riders who will be in the battle for the overall rally win. From my point of view, this year it will be a battle to the end, because the other teams also have very strong riders.
“Our goal is to win because we have already won the two previous races. But the Dakar is thirteen days of racing and a lot of things can happen. We have a great, very reliable bike. For me, it’s the best bike in the whole Dakar. Also this year, the Japanese technicians who couldn’t be here last year because of Covid issues have been able to join us and we also have a Showa suspension technician. The Dakar, however, is so unpredictable and evenly matched that only when you cross the finish line on the final day will the winner of the race be known. We only have one secret: work and work, putting the team before family and friends. It can go well or badly, but if you don’t do your best, you don’t get results.”
The official list of starters is made up of 409 racing vehicles, including 144 bikes (of which 33 will race in the Original by Motul category), 20 quads, 87 T1 cars, 2 T2s as well as 48 T3 lightweight prototypes, 47 T4 SSVs, 56 trucks (T5) and lastly 5 vehicles in the Open category.
Behind their handlebars and wheels, 206 competitors will be participating for the first time on the Dakar, whilst 121 riders, drivers and co-pilots with “Legend” status will be taking part for the 10th time or more. The contingent of ladies has also significantly increased, totaling 28, including 3 100% female crews. With regard to the nationalities represented, France is predominant with 170 participants, ahead of Spain (74) and the Netherlands (64). Aussie privateer Andrew Houlihan (#62 – KTM 450 Rally Factory Replica) is competing in his second Dakar.
Each evening at the bivouac, they will be joined by the 142 vehicles participating in the 2nd edition of the Dakar Classic, comprising a caravan of 301 competitors.
What lays ahead
Starting in Jeddah and finishing in Ha’il, the first day of racing will feature a short 19-kilometre timed special stage, taking place between two very lengthy liaison sections for a total stage of 834 kilometres. The special stage will take place over dirt tracks featuring the occasional small dune, which will give the riders a reminder of their skills in the sand. Finishing positions for the special stage will be important, as they will allow the top finishers to be able to choose their starting positions for the following stage.
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