Though the 2021 Dakar rally will continue to be held in Saudi Arabia, this time around there will be quite a few changes in everything from the venue to the rules and even the introduction of a new category
After the first edition held in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in January 2020, the competitors and crews will be heading back to Saudi Arabia for the 43rd edition of the historic rally which will be held from January 3 to 15, 2021. Registrations open on June 15, with the Dakar teams inviting the competitors to an e-Dakar Tour on two dates: June 16 for a French-English-and Arabic-speaking virtual meet-up, and June 17 for the Spanish-speaking one.
Although some of the towns and cities that hosted the bivouac last January will be returning, the rally will take place in a loop course this time around, beginning and ending in Jeddah, On the shores of the Red sea, the vehicles will rev up their engines and open the first gaps on a spectacular course designed to keep fans on the edge of their seats. The competitors will arrive a few days after the rest day in Ha'il, where the Saudi rally-raid community comes together every year.
Some regions (and the quest for technical sections) are worth staying a bit longer to discover everything they have in store. It also gives support crews a well-deserved breather, for the marathon stage, which will fit the spirit of rally raids and the Dakar like a glove. Riders, drivers and co-drivers will have to marshal all their physical, mental, technical and strategic resources… while leaving something in the tank for later.
The sporting teams in charge of preparing the 2021 edition of the rally have focused on fleshing out the new navigation system introduced last January and slowing down the vehicles to make the race even safer, but no less exciting.
The first big change is that the road book will now be handed just 10 minutes before the start. This decision was made seeing how the top riders shone in the stages of the 2020 edition in which road books were handed out right before the start. Hence, this will become the general rule in the 2021 edition. The road book itself will experience a quantum leap in usability with the introduction of a digital version, which is more reliable than the paper one, in certain situations.
Next, while the road book already highlights danger zones, competitors in the 2021 edition will also receive aural warnings in the approach to difficulty 2 and 3 zones to keep them alert. Additionally, certain especially tricky and hazardous sectors will be categorised as ‘slow zones’ where the speed limit will be 90 kmph.
In the further interests of safety, airbag vests, already in use in several road categories as well as in MotoGP, will now be mandatory and subject to inspection by race officials during technical scrutineering.
Further, the 2021 edition of the rally will also invite time penalties to be applied starting from the second piston change even if the rest of the engine remains the same, as well as the complete prohibition for bikers to work on their motorbikes at refuelling stations.
Also, since tyre management usually plays a decisive role and determines just how hard the competitors can push their vehicles, no tyre changes will be allowed in the car category during the marathon stage —not even between competitors. Further, each motorbike will be granted a total of six rear tyres for the entire rally.
Lastly, the 2021 Dakar will also take a trip down memory lane with the launch of the Dakar Classic. In parallel with the main race, a test of consistency will be held for vehicles that took part in the Dakar or other major rally-raid events before the 2000s. The cars and trucks that forged the legend of the Dakar will be making a comeback… in time for chapter 3!