How to ensure a level playing field is a recurrent issue for a competition in which amateurs rub shoulders with professionals racing for factory teams and vehicles exhibit a wide repertoire of chassis and technologies. In a bid to create the right environment for an even fairer and more open race, the Dakar regulations have been amended with new technical provisions for the cars, time bonuses for bikers who open specials and more.
Motorbikes: the early bird gets the time bonus
The rules that determine the starting position of each biker have a roller-coaster effect that punishes the winner of the previous stage with the arduous task of opening the road. To make sure that fortune continues to favour the bold, a compensation system has been implemented to reward those who lead the race from the front. In virtually every stage, the instant transmission of passage times at the waypoints between the start of the special and the refuelling stop (about 200 km on average) will determine which riders have been at the front and will receive the following time bonuses: 1.5 s/km for the first; 1 s/km for the second; and 0.5 s/km for the third. Example: if the biker who started first opens the road for 200 kilometres, he or she will receive a 300 s bonus (i.e. 5 minutes), while the second one will be awarded 200 s (3′20″) and the third one will get 100 s (1′40″).
Cars: don't stop me now
An experiment was carried out in the 2022 edition mandating a 20-minute break at the refuelling station for all car crews. However, the minimal benefits in terms of recovery were overshadowed by the exploitation of this rule for strategic purposes against the spirit of the sport. For instance, the break allowed the leading vehicles to obtain information on the performances of their rivals. As a result, cars in the T1 and T2 categories will be invited to go through the area with a short technical neutralisation before resuming the competition. Cars in the T3 and T4 categories will continue to stop for 20 minutes to fill the tank.
A decoration for exploration
Battle-hardened car drivers will be granted "Silver", "Gold" or "Platinum" status based on their performances in previous editions of the Dakar and other major rally raid events. Yet behind the elite, the sport also blossoms thanks to the dynamism and commitment of crews that rank a bit further down the standings. This year, a prize will be awarded to the best duo among the "Explorers", a category including all the drivers without one of the three aforementioned statuses.
Original by Motul: you only win once
Original by Motul is a competition for die-hard bikers who make the conscious choice to tackle the Dakar in hard mode. Now, the bar for admission to this select club has been raised even further. Bikers who have won races at a high level or who have been professional riders at some point in their rally raid career will no longer appear in the Original standings. Of course, those who wish to can still race without assistance, follow the same way of life and even serve as Original by Motul ambassadors. Furthermore, in another change designed to favour amateur riders, former winners of the category will no longer be eligible for the win.