The finalised route of the 2018 Dakar Rally has been revealed and we’re in for an awesome ride. Offroad racers now have until January 6 to study the maps before setting off on a 9,000km adventure through South America via some of the most hostile terrain on the planet.
Dakar organisers ASO have come up with something truly special for the famous race’s 40th anniversary edition. For starters, the Dakar is returning to Peru which will host the opening six stages. The event’s sporting director Marc Coma, a five-time bike race winner, has assured competitors that the early stages of the rally will travel across “all the types of sand in Peru”. The return to Peru after a five-year absence has filled competitors with nervous excitement as the nation reopens the doors to its extensive desert plains.
“The race starts in Peru which has challenging desert sections with big dunes. This race is going to be a serious battle from the first day onwards without any warm-up.” – Eduard Nikolaev, Team Kamaz Master driver and two-time Dakar winner.
If the dunes of Peru can be successfully navigated then the challenge of racing at extreme altitude will come next as the Dakar heads into Bolivia. As well as staging the Dakar’s Rest Day in La Paz (3,600 metres above sea level) Bolivia will also host three race stages. In total, racers will spend five days at an altitude of more than 3,000 metres above sea level.
In recent years many top contenders for glory have seen their title hopes dashed in Bolivia. The extreme altitude can cause illness and lapses in concentration while dramatic changes in weather are able to transform the landscape in the blink of an eye.
“Once again I can see the days we spend at high altitude being the key to this race. We have four or five days at extreme altitude and this is never easy to manage.” – Stéphane Peterhansel, Team Peugeot Total driver and 13-time Dakar winner.
For the car and truck crews as well as the bike and quad racers who make it out of Bolivia the final hurdle will be the unforgiving heat and perilous terrain of Argentina. Since the Dakar’s switch to South America locations such as Belén and Chilecito have entered into the race’s legend. This region of Argentina will host the Super Fiambalá stage in 2018, which will also be the second part of a marathon stage for bikes and quads. This maybe the home straight, but there’s more than enough danger to cause a sting in the tail.
“Even though we’ve seen the route you still never really know what the Dakar can throw at you until you’re out there racing.” – Toby Price, Red Bull KTM Factory Team rider and former Dakar winner.
So now the obstacles standing between the best endurance racers on the planet and the Dakar’s finishing line in Cordoba on January 20 are all out in the open. However, just because the route has been revealed it doesn’t mean that things have got any easier. If anything, things have just got a whole lot more difficult.
2018 Dakar Rally route: The big numbers
7 stages will be 100 percent dunes/off-piste
1 marathon stage for all categories
1 extra marathon stage exclusively for bikes and quads
Over 4,500km of timed special stage
Nearly 4,500km of liaison sections
5 days at an altitude of more than 3,000 metres above sea level.
Stéphane Peterhansel: “For sure we need to be really strong because we want to be competing for all 15 days and all 9,000km of track. We have the dunes in Peru, high altitude in Bolivia and the fast, flowing tracks in Argentina. Once again I can see the days we spend at high altitude being the key to this race. We have four or five days at extreme altitude and this is never easy to manage. Also, I think the navigation in Peru in the dunes will be very tough. We know from being there before that when you are in those dunes you really are in the middle of the desert with no clues for navigation.”
Nasser Al-Attiyah: “The 2018 Dakar Rally looks like it’s going to be an interesting race. We’re going back again to Peru and to start there will be a tough opening to the race. We’re kicking things off with five days of sand dunes. Luckily, together with my co-driver Mathieu (Baumel), we have lots of experience when it comes to driving on the dunes. We’ve done many races together and our relationship is good. That’s a big advantage for us because navigation is so important if you want success on the sand dunes. This will not be an easy race for anyone but we are determined to enjoy ourselves and also try and go for the win.”
Sam Sunderland: “It’s a big honour for me to be going in with the #1 plate on my bike and this also puts some weight on my shoulders. This time we start in Peru so we’re arriving to sandy terrain immediately. This suits me well as I’ve been living in Dubai for the last 10 years. To win the Dakar there’s so many things that need to go right for you and you can only control part of that. I’ll be doing my best to keep a cool head and take each day as it comes.”
Toby Price: “From looking at what they’ve done with the routes it looks like we’re in for a pretty difficult start. There’s going to lots of sand and I think it’ll be fun, tough but still fun. Even though we’ve seen the route you still never really know what the Dakar can throw at you until you’re out there racing.”
Eduard Nikolaev: “It’s looking like a really interesting route for the 40th anniversary edition of the Dakar Rally. 2018 is also the 30th anniversary of Team Kamaz Master so we’re hoping to honour both of those special dates with a great result. The race starts on January 6, which is a little later than normal. This means for the first time in a long time we’ll be at home for the New Year celebrations before travelling to South America. Then the race starts in Peru which has challenging desert sections with big dunes. This race is going to be a serious battle from the first day onwards without any warm-up.”