2019 Dakar Rally: Event Preview

by Chris Leone // Website // Twitter
Images via ASO/DPPI

Off-road racing’s first major event of the 2019 season kicks off this weekend, as the 41st annual Dakar Rally kicks off in Lima, Peru on Sunday. The 2019 edition marks the 11th consecutive year that the event has been held in South America after moving from Europe, and the first time that it’s ever been run in only a single country after talks with Chile, Ecuador, and Bolivia didn’t come to fruition.

Even so, the entry list for Dakar 2019 has grown from last year, with 343 competitors to 335 in 2018 and 317 in 2017. That entry list includes 138 bikes, 101 cars, and 34 UTVs—not even counting Robby Gordon’s trio of Textron Off-Road Wildcat XXs, which will be running for the general classification victory.

SAINZ Carlos (spa); Mini; X-Raid Mini JCW Team; Group T1; Class 4; Auto; portrait during the Dakar 2019; Shakedown; Peru; Lima; on january 4 to 5 – Photo Florent Gooden / DPPI

After the factory withdrawal of Peugeot for this year’s event, defending Cars winner Carlos Sainz has shifted to the X-Raid Mini JCW Team, and former Peugeot teammates Cyril Despres and Stephane Peterhansel have followed him. That doesn’t mean Peugeot won’t have a chance at defending its victory, though: Sebastien Loeb will return to the 3008 DKR that he won five stages and finished second with in 2017, running under the privateer PH Sport banner.

Gordon, meanwhile, will return to Dakar for the first time in three years, as he looks to improve on a career-best third place finish from 2009. A 10-time stage winner in previous events, he’ll lead a three-car team alongside Cole Potts and Blade Hildebrand, two of his most talented young compatriots on the Stadium Super Trucks circuit. Both Potts and Hildebrand are veterans of desert racing in the United States, but each will be a Dakar rookie.

On the Bikes, KTM’s Matthias Walkner and Toby Price completed two-thirds of last year’s podium, and will be looked upon as favorites once more in 2019. But Price broke the right scaphoid in his wrist in the months coming into the event, leaving defending winner Walkner and 2017 victor Sam Sunderland as slightly clearer favorites to give the orange bikes their 18th consecutive Dakar victory. 2018 runner-up Kevin Benavides is expected to be one of the streak’s top challengers, though, as he leads Honda’s factory efforts.

Bivouac during the Dakar 2019; Scrutineering; verifications; Peru; Lima; on january 4 to 5 – Photo Eric Vargiolu / DPPI

The UTV field will be led by defending winner Reinaldo Varela, who will be joined by Gerard Farres, last year’s fifth-place Bikes finisher, and Dakar rookie Casey Currie on a three-car factory-backed Can-Am team. Currie has an incredibly diverse off-road background, and won the Desafio Inca during his build-up to the event, meaning he’ll have high hopes for his maiden Dakar event.

Red Bull TV will have daily recaps of the 2019 Dakar Rally, starting from Sunday, January 6 and airing every day through the conclusion of the event at 7PM ET/4PM PT. In addition, NBC Sports will have daily television check-ins from the event, including the following air times next week:

  • Monday, January 7, 6:30PM ET (30 minutes)
  • Tuesday, January 8, 6PM ET (30 minutes)
  • Wednesday, January 9, 6PM ET (60 minutes)
  • Thursday, January 10, 6PM ET (60 minutes)
  • Friday, January 11, 6PM ET (60 minutes)
  • Sunday, January 13, 1AM ET (30 minutes)
  • Sunday, January 13, 11:30PM ET (30 minutes)

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