Navigating the Dakar rally looks extremely complicated

Navigation in motorcycle rallying is a bit different to that in a car, where there is space for a second person, but what exactly does it involve?

Sam Sunderland, 2024 Dakar Rally. - GasGas/RallyZone

While rallying is affirmatively at least one of the most extreme motorcycle sports, it’s also one of the most complicated, certainly when looking from the outside, and that is mostly thanks to navigation.

Anyone vaguely familiar with rally in the better-known WRC sense will be aware that navigation is conducted by a co-driver sitting next to the driver reading pace notes that effectively tell the driver how fast to go. But in rally raid, things are a bit different. 

Credit: GasGas/Marcin Kin.

In sprint-style stage rallies, the pace notes are written by the drivers themselves, whereas in rally raid the competitors are given a roadbook which tells them not the severity, tightness, or speed of a corner, but instead more simple, generic information about the route they should follow.

In four-wheeled rally raid, the co-driver remains, but their role is more navigational than in stage rallies. On two-wheels, of course, there’s no space for a co-driver, and so the roadbook is read by the rider as they pass through the stage.

Sam Sunderland won the Dakar for KTM in 2017, and then for GasGas in 2022, and he goes through the navigation side of motorcycle rally raid in a new YouTube video from Red Bull Rally, which you can watch above.

In the video, Sunderland takes you through everything from the surprisingly complicated task of actually mounting the roadbook to the holder, to insight into how to read the roadbook, which is written in a kind of code based on the French language.

Sunderland then takes off on a relatively short 5km ride through what is presumably a test route for the riders of the Pierer Mobility Group brands' respective rally programmes.

In the 2024 Dakar, the route will be much longer, believe it or not. The Prologue has already been completed and was won by Spaniard Tosha Schareina, while Sunderland finished sixth. After the Prologue, Sunderland said: “With the prologue, it's always a mix between trying to navigate but trying to go as fast as possible. And it's always a fine balance. And there were a couple of tricky notes in there, to be honest, that weren't really clear, and the tracks were veering off all over the shop, so I had to keep my eye on the road.

“I’m really happy to start this Dakar. We've got a lot of rough days in front of us, so I’m looking forward to getting stuck into it.”

The rally ‘proper’ got underway on 6 January, and will eventually pass from Al Henakiyah - whose capital city Medina is the second-most holy city in Islam - to the final stage in Al Madinah, whose capital, Yanbu, hosted the first stage of the 2023 rally. In total, the route will cover 4,954 miles, including 2,937 miles of special stages.

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Lead image credit: GasGas/RallyZone