Top Five Differences Between Desert Racing And Rally Raid -

Top Five Differences Between Desert Racing And Rally Raid

We Aren’t In Baja Anymore
Top Five Differences Between Desert Racing And Rally Raid
Dakar Rally 2016- The Odyssey

You might know every bump in Barstow, or every taco stand from San Felipe to La Paz, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you know how rally raid events like the Dakar Rally work. You will be ahead of the curve just by the virtue of respecting how difficult it is to race off-road for hundreds (or thousands) of miles, but the differences aren’t trivial. In some ways, rally raid has more in common with WRC-style rally, since the drivers rely on navigator’s notes for guidance. “The notes in WRC are much more thorough than rally raid though,” Dakar rookie and WRC stud Sebastian Loeb noted. Somewhere between rally and desert racing is rally raid.

No Unlimited Racing- “Why doesn’t someone just show up with a Trick Truck?” some have asked. Dakar has strict rules limiting horsepower, weight, and tire size that rule out running a Trophy Truck with an eight stack Kroyer engine and 40-inch tires. Restrictors are used to limit the power potential of both gasoline and diesel engines; it’s like everyone at Dakar is racing in Class 10. 4WD vehicles are more limited than 2WD, with smaller tires and wheel travel limitations. These restrictions have resulted in teams building vehicles as light as allowed in order to retain a reasonable power-to-weight ratio while still complying with the requirements.

No Prerunning- One of our favorite aspects of racing in Baja is the ability to pre-run the race course at a relaxed pace, complete with taco stops and camping on the beach. This is strictly prohibited at Dakar, but it has nothing to do with the desert tortoise or the BLM. Each year the Dakar Rally follows a different route, and that route remains unknown to the teams until the night before the stage. Thierry Sabine was inspired to start the Dakar Rally in 1979 after getting lost in northern Africa, and the ASO has retained that sense of adventure. Not disclosing the course puts more emphasis on navigation skills than memorization. Teams have a rough idea where they are going, but it isn’t until they receive the road book that they have a clear picture where the course is. Which brings us to our next point…

No GPS- There is no PCI trailer at the Dakar Rally where you can get a file with the course and all of the hazards marked for you. A modern Dakar race vehicle does have a lot of electronics, but a Lowrance GPS is not one of them. Drivers and navigators can’t even possess a race radio or smartphone with GPS capabilities installed. Instead the navigator is given a paper road book that they use in conjunction with a digital odometer to measure overall distance and distances between road book entries. Like desert racing, there are virtual checkpoints at Dakar whose locations are unknown to the teams until they come within close proximity of them. This is handled by the Iritrack system that logs the position of each race vehicle, discouraging short coursing. A Sentinel system is also mandatory at the Dakar Rally, which uses a huge LED light and siren to notify race vehicles when they are being overtaken or are in close proximity to a vehicle in front of them. A Sarsat distress beacon is also required, and is activated in the case of an emergency. A team that stops to help another competitor can also press a button on their Sarsat device and any time they spend in assistance can be deducted from their time at the end of the stage.

Long Road Sections- Desert racing is typically non-stop until you reach the finish line. As a result, creature comforts are not a priority. By contrast, rally raid events cover multiple days with long liaisons (untimed road sections) and special stages. This year the Dakar Rally was scheduled to cover 9,344 kilometers, but less than half of that distance (4,684 kilometers) is timed special stages. Road miles are significantly easier than race miles, but they still put wear and tear on the vehicles. They can also contribute to driver fatigue, which is why most vehicles in Dakar have a windshield and air conditioning. They are also required to be street legal.

12 Hour Prep- In desert racing, most teams pick a series to run and only focus on the events from that series. These races are spaced out in such a way as to allow ample time to prep your car. At Dakar, your crew has to repair and prep the race vehicle each night for the next day’s race. They work outside, not in a fully equipped race shop, and have to carry everything they anticipate needing for two weeks of racing. This is why you see huge support trucks full of tires and tools at the Dakar Rally. Just as some teams have their own chase crews and others use Mag7, most factory teams typically have one support truck dedicated to each race vehicle, while smaller teams have the option to rent support services for the rally.


  1. #1 should be sleep deprivation in the Dakar. It can’t be understated that it’s day after day of long days, between both liaison and specials. Day after day, week after week.

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