With the new rules in place, a lot has changed for this year’s rally. Here’s a lowdown on how it changes the scenario for riders and whom should you be looking out for
If you have just started following Dakar on TV, you’ll be overwhelmed with the action. This year sees several rule changes and also the inclusion of some new riders – Ashish Raorane as a privateer for example.
Let’s talk about the new rules first. The roadbook is going to be distributed each morning, which would level the field for privateers and factory teams and of course; save time in the evenings. Secondly, there will be a limit on the rear tire changes; again eliminating the advantage for factory teams and third, all racers are mandated to wear airbag vests.
Now let us delve into the profiles of promising riders.
Ricky Brabec (Honda, USA)
Definitely one of the top contenders; the defending champion made history last year by being the first-ever American rider to win the Dakar. He also brought victory to Honda after a 31-year hiatus, ending KTM’s streak. Ricky is strong when it comes to the technical bits and 2021 promises even more of that so that’s good for him. He has a great bike, a positive mindset and is in the best shape ever so it should work in his favour.
Toby Price (KTM, Australia)
KTM will be itching to win this year after Honda’s revival last year and who better than Toby Price to do outdo the competition? Toby won the 2019 Dakar albeit with a broken wrist and hasn’t ever finished off the podium. Expect the same story to continue this year, considering he has a backing from one of the strongest factory teams out there.
Matthias Walkner (KTM, Austria)
Matthias is a thinking man’s racer and is a lot more calculated than most of his rivals and teammates even. He is brilliant at strategising and has managed to won the 2018 Dakar using the same set of skills. Expect him to be at the front of the pack and if everything falls his way, he should definitely be one of the top contenders for sure.
Pablo Quintanilla (Husqvarna, Chile)
Pablo is good at winning stages but hasn’t been the quickest, when it comes to the pace. But to see him winning the rally would be an overpromising prospect unless the other riders do not manage to finish the rally on two-wheels.
Joan Barreda Bort (Honda, Spain)
JBB’s ultimate win is inevitable after his stage victories. He has fallen short on the strategic front although speed has never been an issue. Don’t be surprised if he ends up winning most of the stages. Dakar victory seems to be far-fetched though.
Sam Sunderland (KTM, Great Britain)
Sam has always been quick in sand and in the dunes stages, he is expected to be lightning quick. He has won the Dakar in 2017 and finished third once after that but hasn’t managed to finish twice which means, consistency isn’t his forte. But he is quick for sure.
David Knight (Great Britain)
Knight did manage to qualify for the Dakar at Andalucia Rally but sourcing funds and arranging travel amidst the lockdown has been a problem. Knight’s fans contributed to his outing on a Gp Fund page and he’s here! The 42-year old three-time FIM Enduro champ definitely promises a lot and you must follow his journey, I’d suggest.
Xavier De Soultrait (France)
Xavier has setup his own team of sorts under the HT Husvqarna Rally squads tent. He has switched from Yamaha to Husqvarna this year and is enjoying his saddle time. He isn’t pressured unlike other riders and after his brilliant showing at Andalucia, expect a brilliant finish at the Dakar as well.
Jaume Betriu (Spain)
The best placed rookie from 2020 (14th), Jaume will be back riding a KTM this year in his second Dakar outing. He has had a successful run this year on the 500 KTM, racing the Enduro World Championship. He has racked up a lot of time on the saddle this year so that should be of some help.
C S Santosh (Hero MotoSports Team Rally)
The first Indian ever to participate in the Dakar rally, C S is a veteran already, participating for the fifth time in Dakar this year. He has managed to finish the rally thrice with his best performance coming in 2018 (34th). After participating in Andalucia Rally and Baja PortoAlegre, the 37-year old returns as a part of the three-man Hero team alongside Joaquim Rodrigues and Sebastian Buhler on a brand new machine. He’s the most promising Indian at the Dakar this year so you ought to follow him closely.
Harith Noah (Privateer)
News came in last month about Sherco TVS packing up their bags and not participating in Dakar this year. However, Harith’s second outing at the Dakar this year is on the cards thanks to the sponsorship from the Sherco TVS team (not direct participation) which will see him race as a privateer. He was forced to retire last year due to technical issues but the rookie managed to gain experience thanks to the new Dakar Experience protocol that allows participants to carry on the race, without general classification.
Ashish Raorane (Privateer)
Raorane, 39, is a marine engineer by profession and is all set to debut in the hardcore Original by Motul class for riders, with no assistance. Raorane is no factory rider but as an engineer, he is well versed with the technical bits and can repair the bike on his own. He sees C S Santosh as an inspiration and says that “Dakar is not a one-time thing and I want to build on that first experience.”