South African contingent to add a twist to epic Dakar 2024 Bike race

It is almost that time again! On Friday 5 January 2024, 354 crews comprising of 72 cars, 137 motorcycles and 10 quads, 78 Challenger cars and SSVs, and 46 Trucks will line up to start Dakar 2024’s 157 km prologue around Al-Ula.

That sets the starting order for the next day’s first 532 km Arabian desert stage to Al Henakiyah before 4,727 km of racing and 7,891 km overall, to the finish at Yanbu on Friday 19 January. This preview covers all you need to know about the 2024 bike and quad race.

The Dakar Motorcycle race is always close and intense, and usually goes right down to the wire. Once again, there’s a significant South African contingent among the two wheelers, but looking at the frontrunners, it seems that Dakar 2024 will be a very close-run race.

Husqvarna Factory Racing has only one machine entered, but that’s for reigning Dakar bike champion, Argentine Luciano Benavides. Sister brand KTM Factory Racing has its regular trio of bikes for former winners, second overall last year, Aussie Toby Price in his swansong Dakar bike race and, and Luciano’s brother, Kevin Benavides. The third partner in that trio of sibling dirtbike brands, GasGas has another two former winners, Brit Sam Sunderland, and Aussie Daniel Sanders in the saddle.

Honda quite literally has a Monster team out chasing Dakar victory. Chileans Pablo Quintanilla and Jose Ignacio Cornejo Florimo, Americans Ricky Brabec and Skyler Howes, Frenchman Adrien van Beveren and Spaniard Schareina Tosha will all form part of that red wave. Sherco’s Factory riders are Spaniard Lorenzo Santolino, Portuguese Rui Gonçalves and Indian Harith Koitha Veettil. Newcomers Kove have American Mason Klein, Frenchmen Xavier Flick and Neels Theric, and Italian Cesare Zacchetti riding. Yamaha has called it quits at the Dakar, but privateers Antonio Maio and Javi Vega should be quick.

Hero Motorsports has however once again put a strong factory effort together, with Spanish Honda refugee Joan Barreda joining its existing line-up of German Sebastian Bühler, Portuguese rider Joaquim Rodrigues, and top Southern African rider, Botswana hero Ross Branch. Ross is one of eight Southern African riders entered in the 2024 Dakar bike race alongside privateer BAS KTM teammates, Bradley Cox starting his third Dakar, and ever-quick 2023 rookie winner Michael Docherty.

South Africa’s 2023 Malle Moto Original winner Charan Moore is back but riding his Husqvarna with assistance this time. Stuart Gregory however continues once again in Malle Moto on his KTM. Former multiple South African motocross champion and 2023 SA Senior Cross Country champion Kerim Fitz-Gerald is worth keeping a close eye on as he makes his Dakar debut on a KTM. Fellow rookies, Ronald Venter rides a KTM and Zimbabwean Ashley Thixton, a Husqvarna.

The Dakar quads are a dying breed with only ten entries this year. Watch for Lithuanians Laisvydas Kancius and Antanas Kanopkinas, Slovakian Juraj Varga, French rider Alexandre Giroud, and Argentine duo Francisco Moreno Flores and Manuel Andujar among them.

"We have made sure that the fifth edition of Dakar in Saudi Arabia will be the toughest race since we have come to the Middle East," race director David Castera warned. “We will race 4,727 km and cover 7,891 km of special stages, including a new two-day ‘48h chrono’ marathon stage, where competitors must stop at the nearest of eight bivouacs at 4pm and crews will have no contact with their teams. This one will be tough. Good luck to all competitors and teams!”

Also the opening round of the third season of the W2RC World Rally-Raid Championships Dakar 2024 starts with the 157 km Al-Ula Prologue on Friday 5 January. Day 1 on Saturday races 532 km to Al Henakiyah, before 662 km to Al Duwadimi, and 733 km on to Al Salamiya on Monday. Day 4 races 631 km to Al Hofuf, before 727 km to Shubaytah, an 818 km lap around there on Thursday, and on to Riyadh on Friday. Saturday is the rest day before an 873 km trek to Al Duwadimi on Sunday 14 January, before 678 km to Ha’il, and then 639 km Al-Ula. A 609 km loop around Al-Ula follows on Wednesday, before 587 km to Yanbu, and finally, a 328 km sting in the tail loop to the Friday 19 January finish at Yanbu.

*Motorsport Media’s Dakar Motorcycle Report powered by Tork Craft Tools. Find Motorsport Media’s 2024 Dakar Car, Specials & Truck Preview Powered by Gazoo Toyota Racing Here