The five categories of the Dakar
The Dakar features five categories of vehicles. Motorbikes, quads, cars (T1/T2), lightweight vehicles (T3/T4) and trucks (T5) have given their riders and crews the chance to experience an extraordinary adventure and discover the breathtaking landscapes of the 29[PL1] countries traversed since the first edition in 1979.
In this premier category, riders also convey the image of the lonely biker at sunset, looking for a way in the middle of an ocean of dunes.
Although the vast majority of the bikers are amateurs, the selection process is very strict. In order to participate in the Dakar, candidates must have already completed a leg of the FIM Cross-Country World Cup or a "Dakar Series" race.
There are several groups, the best known of which are the "Elite" bikers. Equipped with distinctive yellow number plates, these riders have all finished in the top 10 of the general classification or won at least one special (not including the prologue) in a previous edition.
All motorbikes in the Dakar have their engine capacity limited to 450 cc.
Their maximum engine capacity is 750 cc for two-wheel drive machines and 900 cc for four-wheel drives.
Lightweight vehicles bring together the T3 and T4 categories. T3s (race number on a violet background) are prototypes crafted by specialised makers, a launchpad for seasoned crews and the last step before the car category. T4s (race number on a white background) are based on production vehicles also known as SSVs. This booming category gives competitors the opportunity to make affordable changes to their vehicles, which remain quite similar to their production counterparts.
The aim of this category is to allow numerous amateurs to participate in an economical and fun category. This new class also enables big teams and makers to detect up-and-coming talents.
Equipped with fuel tanks no larger than 130 litres and a range of 250 kilometres, these vehicles stop at the same refuelling stations as the motorbikes.
The most common type (among professionals and amateurs) is a prototype that meets Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) technical and safety standards. The base of the vehicle is a tubular chassis on which mechanical and safety components are mounted.
The bodywork, often made from fibreglass or carbon, usually emulates the profile of a production vehicle, but these vehicles are entirely designed and developed for competition. They are not found in dealerships!
T1s are two- or four-wheel drive machines equipped with petrol or diesel-powered engines. They are the fastest and, often, the most impressive cars in the field.
The best known:
- Nasser Al-Attiyah's TOYOTA Hilux
- Stéphane Peterhansel's JCW BUGGY
- Nani Roma's HUNTER Prodrive
Their race number is on a white background. These are production off-road vehicles that have been modified for competition. The concept is relatively simple. Based on a production 4×4 vehicle purchased from a dealership, modifications are made, following a highly regulated and primarily safety-oriented preparation: roll cage, bucket seats, fuel tanks…
The OPEN class comprises several subcategories. It includes vehicles meeting technical standards different from those of the FIA, such as the American SCORE rules for electric vehicles and alternative-powered vehicles.
These are production-based trucks that meet FIA regulations. They have become quite rare because they are not very suitable for crossing dunes, for example.
The most common. These are prototype trucks, following regulations written by ASO, the organiser of the Dakar. However, the cabin and certain components must be production-based. Contrary to the T1 cars, it is therefore possible to recognise the brand of the truck at first glance. Lightweight, powerful and imposing, their "cargo hold" is in fact almost completely empty. For safety reasons, their top speed is capped at 140 km/h.
The best known:
- Team De Rooy's IVECO
- Team Mammoet's red KAMAZ and RENAULT
These "rapid support" vehicles have their race numbers on a pink background and carry spare parts: these former T5.1 or T5.2 trucks now serve as rolling workshops and can also assist other types of vehicles in need.