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Dakar Rally: Categories Explained

Written by Cameron Gale, Edited by Simran Kanthi

#03 Sam Sunderland; Image Credit: Magnus Torquato

With the 2023 Dakar Rally set to begin at the end of the week, what better time to learn about the categories within it? There are seven categories for the Rally this year, and for those of you who haven’t yet seen it or are wondering what the categories are as well as an overall summary of what the regulations are for each one, then keep reading to find out.


Category details:


Bikes: In this premier category, bikes are restricted to a 450cc engine. There are seven different groups, the best known which are 'elite'; these riders have either finished in the top ten in the general classification or won a special stage (not including the prologue).


Although most of them are amateurs, they do have to compete in at least one FIM cross-country race or a ‘Dakar Series’ race.


Cars:

T1: The most common type of vehicle (widely used among professionals and amateurs) is a prototype that meets FIA safety and technical standards. The base of the vehicle is usually a tubular chassis with mechanical and safety components.


The bodywork is often made from fibreglass or carbon fibre which makes the vehicle extremely lightweight and fast, meaning it is also durable.


They are either petrol or diesel-powered with two or four wheels. They are the fastest and 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


T2: Their race number is on a white background. The concept is relatively simple. A production-based 4×4 vehicle purchased from a dealership, modifications are made to ensure it meets FIA safety regulations.


OPEN:

The OPEN class comprises several subcategories. According to the official Dakar website, the vehicles must meet "technical standards different from those of the FIA, such as the American SCORE rules for electric vehicles and alternative-powered vehicles."

Quads: These used to be a subdivision of the motorbike category but were separately classified in 2009. These are designated under section three in the current regulations. Group 3.1 includes those with a single-cylinder maximum engine capacity of 750cc, consisting of two-wheel drive quads, and Group 3.2 includes those with a maximum engine capacity of 900cc, either single or two-cylinder quads, which are a four-wheel drive.


Yamaha are unbeaten in this category since 2009, with their main competitors resting in the form of Honda and Can-Am.

#193 Aleksandr Maksimov; Image Credit: Julien Delfosse

Lightweight vehicles: Lightweight vehicles bring the T3 and T4 categories together. T3 have their race numbers on a violet background and are prototypes crafted by specialised makers, a stepping stone for those who are aiming to get into the car category. T4 have their race number on a white background and are production vehicles known as SSVs. This category gives competitors an affordable alternative to all of the other classes as the vehicles are relatively cheap and the parts are also cheap.


Trucks: This class consists of vehicles weighing more than 3500 kg (7716 lbs). They are further subdivided into “Series Production” and “Modified” trucks.


T5.1: These are production-based trucks that meet FIA regulations. Since the turn of the century, Kamaz has always dominated the truck class. Although, it has been receiving stern competition from Iveco, Mercedes, MAN, and Tatra.


T5.2: These are the most common prototype trucks that meet ASO regulations, the organiser of the Dakar. However, the cabin and certain other components must be production-based. This is so that spectators can recognise the brand of the truck at first sight. Lightweight, powerful and imposing, the 'cargo hold' of the truck is completely empty. For safety reasons, their speed is limited to 140 km/h (87 mph).


The best-known:

- Team De Rooy's IVECO


- Team Mammoet's red KAMAZ and RENAULT


T5.3: These support vehicles have their numbers on a pink background and carry spare parts. They are former T5.1 or T5.2 trucks that now act as a rolling workshop to assist other types of vehicles in need.

#506 Martin Brink Van Der, Peter Willemsen, Bernard Kindern Der; Image Credit: Florent Gooden

Dakar Classic:

In its first-year edition, the Dakar Classic caught the eyes of many as several classic vehicles had previously taken part in the Dakar in this category. For example, there was a Rothmans Porsche (as pictured below). Regulations for this category state that the paint job and all other parts of the car must remain the same. The car must also have competed in at least one Dakar in the past. The "Classic": back to the future.



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