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2021 Dakar event guide and British riders!

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The 2021 Dakar Rally has started, not in Dakar, but in Saudi Arabia. With the start in Jeddah, the route goes through Bisha, Wadi Ad- Dawasir, Riyadh, Al Qaisumah, Ha’il, Sakaka, Neom, Yanbu before finishing back in Jeddah two weeks later. Organisers promise a route of exploration, which includes new special stages. The revised route neutralises power and maximises skill and talent. 2021 Dakar mileage total is 4,767Km which equates to 2,962 miles.

2021 Dakar rally route
2021 Dakar rally route

Dakar Rally history

The Dakar Rally, originated in 1979 and as the name suggests did run from Paris in France, to Dakar in Senegal. Security threats lead to the cancellation of the 2008 event, and from 2009 onward moved to South America. In 202 the event moved to Saudi Arabia. It’s an off-road test of endurance, with tough terrain consisting of dunes, mud, sand and rock, with long daily stages of up to 560 miles. The event covers a number of classes including cars, trucks, Quads/UTV and bikes. These vehicles are all purpose-built for off-road events, as opposed to modified road bikes. Bikes use a roadbook system, where the rider compiles his route notes on two scrolls which can be operated via hand controls. This guides the rider of waypoints, plus any other additional information.

Dakar roadbook
Example roadbook

Obviously, in order to win, you have to finish, and maintaining consistency within the rally is key. Mechanical failures are common, riders should be well versed in their bikes, as they have to repair it themselves should something go wrong. Whilst a complete spares package can’t be carried common items like brake pads, a spare fuel injector, clutch plates, spare levers and basic tools are common. The biggest cause of failure is a crash/fall where items can break.

Sam underland
Sam Sunderland (GBR) KTM 450 RALLY Dakar 2018 ©

Dakar Rally Rules

The motorcycle classes are limited to a cc limit of 450cc in either single or twin configurations. Riders are split into two groups, either Elite, or Non-Elite. Non-Elite entrants are further split into two classes Super production, and Marathon entrants. Elite and Super production entrants are permitted to change components like engine cases, cylinders and heads, forks and swingarm whereas Marathon entries cannot. KTM riders have typically dominated the event in recent years, despite Honda winning the 2020 event.

Dirty bike? Worx has you covered with the cordless pressure washer

Dakar Rally 2021 TV Coverage

Eurosport and Eurosport HD has great coverage. Highlights are on TV, and the website has live leaderboards, the latest news and video updates covering all classes. Manufacturer channels and the Dakar Rally’s own youtube channel have daily coverage and result updates.


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2021 Dakar Rally British riders

No 5 – Sam Sunderland – Red Bull KTM Factory

Sam Sunderland –

By his own admission, Sam Sunderland has enjoyed something of a rollercoaster ride at the Dakar since making his debut in 2012. The 31-year-old’s early participations in the world’s biggest rally ended in frustration -mechanical issues in 2012 and 2014, a crash in 2015- but the stars aligned in 2017 as he became the first British winner of the Dakar. Ever since standing on the top step of the podium, the Red Bull KTM Factory star has been looking to repeat his triumph, but as he explained before last year’s rally, “You need to be perfect and then some more to win the Dakar”. In 2018, he made a storming start as the defending champion, winning two early stages, but then crashed out on day four. The following year he rediscovered his consistency, finishing third behind teammates Toby Price and Matthias Walkner -and were it not for a detached brake disc on Stage 6, he would no doubt have been in the mix for a second victory. The 2020 edition also ended in disappointment as Sunderland, by then the FIM Cross-Country Rallies world champion, crashed out again on Stage 5. Despite alternating highs and lows over his seven participations, the Englishman has never lost his hunger to succeed, and goes into Dakar 2021 determined to wrest supremacy in the bikes back from Honda, who ended KTM’s 18-year winning streak with Ricky Brabec last year. Born in Southampton, Sam grew up in Poole and discovered motocross at the age of seven, before moving to Dubai as a teenager and developing a passion for cross-country rallies. Having signed for Honda in 2011 and KTM in 2014, he has become one of the most talented desert riders in the world. Meanwhile, spending over a decade in the United Arab Emirates has given him something of a home advantage now that the Dakar is being held in neighbouring Saudi Arabia. Sam is always one of the big favourites in the bikes, and in spite of a minor fall at the recent Andalucia Rally, he says he’s in the best shape of his life going into this 43rd edition.

No 68 – Jamie McCanney – Monster Energy Yamaha Rally Team

Jamie McCanney –

Jamie McCanney was very much thrown in at the deep end when he made his Dakar debut last year. Not only was the British rider discovering a new discipline -having only made the jump from enduro to rally raid in 2019- he was also recovering from a serious shoulder injury sustained midway through the season. Considering that he was taking part in only his second rally, the 26-year-old acquitted himself very admirably indeed, finishing 15th in the bikes and as the 2nd-best rookie. He also claimed the highest stage finish for Yamaha -6th on day 11- after teammates Adrien Van Beveren and Xavier de Soultrait were forced to abandon early on. Having made it through his maiden outing, Jamie is feeling far more confident about Dakar 2021, even if the Covid-19 crisis has limited him to just one major race this year: the Andalucia Rally, where he came 7th. The Monster Energy Yamaha Rally team have made some personnel changes for this 43rd edition, with Andy Short and Ross Branch coming on board and De Soultrait leaving for Husqvarna. They will now be hoping to follow in Honda’s footsteps by snapping a Dakar winless streak that stretches back to 1998, when Stéphane Peterhansel won the last of his 6 titles in the bikes. Jamie will certainly be looking to play his part, although he admits he has slightly longer-term plans for Dakar success. The Isle of Man native discovered bikes at an early age, following his older brother Daniel into motocross and winning the British championship in 2005. Despite training as an electrician, he chose to pursue a professional racing career, switching to enduro in 2012. In his very first race he suffered serious injuries after hitting a stray dog, but recovered to win the FIM Youth Cup in 2013 and the Junior World Championship title in 2015. After signing with Yamaha, he came within a whisker of winning the senior Enduro World Championship, but had to settle for silver behind Josep Garcia (2017) and Brad Freeman (2018). One of the United Kingdom’s biggest talents, a fit-again Jamie will definitely be worth keeping an eye on throughout this Dakar, where he will be leaning on last year’s experience as he attempts to mix it up with the best in the business.

No 84 – Neil Hawker – Privateer – KTM 450 Rally

Neil Hawker –

Neil Hawker has a much better idea what to expect as he returns for his second tilt at the Dakar in 2021. The British rider was just getting into his stride on his debut last year when he crashed on Stage 5, and was forced to abandon the rally with a broken arm. Having been given (in his own words) a “kick up the ass” by a friend back home, Gary Potts, Neil has decided to return a year earlier than planned to try to get the measure of the world’s toughest rally. The 37-year-old certainly isn’t doing things the easy way, entering the punishing Original by Motul class for the second time. Then again, he has been riding for most of his life, and his day job sees him work as an instructor at the BMW Off Road Skills school in Wales. Neil has been passionate about bikes since he was a boy, and spent many years competing with the British Armed Forces, notably in International Six Days Enduro (ISDE) and trials events. After returning to civilian life, he teamed up with Simon Pavey at Off Road Skills, and the Australian’s tales of his Dakar adventures inspired Neil to give it a go himself. For this second edition in Saudi Arabia, he has traded his Husqvarna for a KTM 450 Rally Replica, which he hopes will get him safely through to the finish line in Jeddah. Though he doesn’t claim to be punching in the same weight category as fellow British bikers Sam Sunderland, Jamie McCanney and his old pal David Knight, Neil is quietly ambitious about achieving a solid result in the Originals. He is also looking forward to enjoying a bit of the true Dakar spirit in the assistance-free class, where competition and cooperation go hand-in-hand.

No 101 David Knight – HT Rally Raid Husqvarna Racing

David Knight –

David Knight is one of the best bikers the United Kingdom has ever produced, and he will finally be making his long-awaited Dakar debut in 2021. The five-time enduro world champion will definitely be a man to watch in Saudi Arabia, although he insists he won’t be going into the unfamiliar world of rally raid all guns blazing. Instead, ‘Knighter’ is determined to learn as much as he can. David’s father was a keen biker who competed in trials events, so the 42-year-old has been riding practically since he could walk; he fondly remembers ripping around on a Yamaha PW50 and TY80 as a boy. Having followed in the footsteps of his dad and older brother Juan, he honed his skills on the rolling terrain of the biker’s paradise that is the Isle of Man. And once he started competing in enduro, there was no stopping him. After winning multiple British titles, he was crowned world enduro champion for the first time in 2005. It was a bittersweet year for David; he also claimed one of the biggest victories of his career with a gold medal at the International Six Days Enduro (ISDE), but sadly lost his father to cancer. As a KTM factory rider he continued to go from strength to strength, adding further world enduro titles in 2006 and 2010, and the world superenduro championship in 2008. He also conquered America, with multiple wins at the Grand National Cross Country (GNCC) series and the AMA endurocross championship. Even since stepping away from the main world championship events to focus on his family life, David has continued to add to his glittering CV, winning the inaugural FIM Enduro Open Cup for seniors in 2019. He has been busy working on Dakar sponsorship in recent months, although he still found time to claim victory in the Rally 2 class at the main warm-up event in Andalucia, ahead of fellow highly rated debutants Tosha Schareina and Libor Podmol. David will be riding for the HT Rally Raid Husqvarna racing team, meaning he’ll be able to seek advice from talented teammates including Xavier de Soultrait, Adam Tomiczek and Paul Spierings. The enduro legend will no doubt have a few tales of his own to share around the bivouac campfire as well, and not just from his racing days; Queen Elizabeth II awarded him an MBE for services to sport in 2011, and he carried the Olympic torch during the Isle of Man leg of its relay before London 2012.