With the prologue for the world’s toughest rally-raid race just five days away, the Toyota Gazoo Racing (TGR) Dakar Team has assembled its three GR DKR Hilux T1+ race cars at the Sea Camp, north of the Saudi Arabian town of Yanbu.
The next order of business is a thorough shakedown to confirm that everything works as expected, before attending to the final checks and administration for Dakar 2023.
The 11 km prologue for the race, which is used to determine the starting orders for the first stage, will get the action under way during the afternoon of 31 December 2022, before the race itself kicks off on New Year’s Day 2023. Fourteen competitive stages will follow, with a Rest Day following Stage 8.
For TGR, the 2023 Dakar Rally will offer an opportunity to defend the crown it won, when Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah and French co-driver, Mathieu Baumel, brought the mighty GR DKR Hilux T1+ home in first place at the end of the 2022 edition of the race. This was Nasser and Mathieu’s second victory for the team, and they will be aiming for a repeat performance early in the new year.
Teammate Giniel de Villiers, from South Africa, has one of the best Dakar records in history, having competed in twenty Dakars to date. He won the race in 2009, and has been on the podium seven additional times. He has only finished outside the Top 10 once in twenty races, and will be aiming for another solid result, again with co-driver Dennis Murphy, also from South Africa, beside him.
For the South African pairing of Henk Lategan and co-driver Brett Cummings, their first two Dakar Rallies together proved learning experiences. In their first outing, in 2021, the pair crashed heavily during Stage 5 of the rally, resulting in a broken collarbone for Lategan. In 2022 they bounced back, driving at a more manageable pace that saw them take two stage victories, though their 31st place finish belied the pace of the young pairing.
Dakar 2023 promises to be one of the toughest yet, consisting of 14 stages rather than the dozen that has become the norm over the last few editions of the race. Not only that, but the route also ventures further into the so-called Empty Quarter of Saudi Arabia than ever before. Add to that the Rest Day, which comes well after the mid-point of the race, as well as the removal of mid-stage rest-and-refuel points, and it is clear that the upcoming rally will be tough.
With that said, the GR DKR Hilux T1+ has seen constant improvement since the last Dakar, winning the inaugural W2RC in the hands of Nasser and Mathieu, and taking Giniel to yet another title in the South African Rally-Raid Championship, which serves as one of the test series for the team. With refinements to the car’s quality, reliability and durability, the team is confident that it has built an even better car than the one that won the race in 2022.
The route for the upcoming Dakar Rally starts at the so-called Sea Camp, on the North-Western coastline of Saudi Arabia. Both the Prologue and Stage 1 will be staged from here, before Stage 2 takes the rally towards the stunning rocks and canyons around Alula. Next up is Stage 3 towards Ha’il, where the bivouac will remain in place for three days before shifting to Al Duwadimi for two days. Stage 8 will see the rally reach the Saudi capital of Riyadh, for a much-needed Rest Day.
From here, the route continues in an Eastward direction towards Haradh, before shifting into the Empty Quarter for the final few days of the event. This year’s Marathon Stage – where the crews race away from the bivouac to an unsupported camp in the desert, before racing back the following day – will take place near the end of the race, and may well change the outcome of the event.
The final stages of the race will take the crews from Shaybah to Al-Hofuf, and on to the city of Dammam, on the Arabian Gulf. While the closing three stages of the rally all feature distances under 200km, the organisers have cautioned that these stages may well prove the toughest of the event, and that competitors should not take them lightly based purely on their relatively short distances.
Dakar 2023 is scheduled to finish on January 15, in the city of Dammam. This will be the Dakar’s first visit to the city, and also the first time that the race spans across the entire Saudi Arabian landscape from coast to coast.