4 Vehicles That Highlight the Insanity of the Dakar Classic

Daimler Truck

The world of motorsport is vast. For almost any vehicle with an engine or a motor, there is someone who spends their time tweaking and tuning it to go faster, further, or higher. Of course, there will always be people who are motivated less by an overall win and more by proving they have the heart to tackle a challenge in an unconventional or otherwise less-than-ideal vehicle. Their goal could be to show that the vehicle is more capable than most think, or that they have the skills to make anything work. Regardless of their motivation, we salute those who keep the weird and wonderful driving and racing.

The latest examples we have found of people doing the right thing in a questionable way were competitors in the 2024 Dakar Rally—specifically, in the Dakar Classic, a time-speed-distance rally run parallel to the main event (won by Carlos Sainz, Sr. in an electric Audi) and open only to vehicles built before 2000 (or built new to pre-2000 specs). The two-week event wrapped its final stage last Friday, and, as we followed along the recaps and highlights, this video from Red Bull Rally caught our eye.

Matt Jones walks the pits each day and talks to various racers about their experience and their machines, some of which we didn’t recognize or expect to see at a grueling off-road race such as Dakar. Here are four vehicles that you’d never expect to see in the desert of Saudi Arabia—but that took on its challenges all the same.

Unexpected Dakar hero #1: Citroën 2CV

Citroen 2cv on Dakar 2024 rally
Red Bull Rally

With only 35 horsepower on tap from an air-cooled flat-twin, the 2CV is an odd choice for a race that involves miles of extremely soft sand, a surface that requires high wheel speeds and typically favors vehicles with high horsepower. Luckily, the car’s lightweight construction and the simple design of its air-cooled, two-cylinder engine worked in favor of Barbora Holická and Lucie Engová, the pair of Czech ladies who comprise the driver and navigator team.

Holická, the driver, points out that the suspension’s unconventional—and very French—design makes for a floaty car that looks like a duck as it bounds over the terrain—thus, the theme for the “Duckar” livery. However, in a field of dedicated race cars, this vintage oddity would have been easy to spot even without the plastic ducks or the bright pink paint.

Unexpected Dakar hero #2: Unimog Snow Plow

Unimog snow plow dakar rally 2024
Red Bull Rally

Of all the vehicles you’ll find in the desert, one designed to move frozen water sounds pretty absurd. Dakar has a lot of classes for competition, though, and Class T5.1 and T5.2 are designed to accommodate this sort of unconventional monster. Watching in-car in-truck video of the three-person crew in this ex-snow plow shows how wild Dakar can get. This Unimog is likely a T5.1 class entry, as that is skewed toward models based on production vehicles; T5.2 is for modified ones. Regardless of how much power you pack under the hood of your truck, the bed must be empty, and your speed is limited to 86 mph. That still seems quick for a vehicle the size of a New York City apartment.

Unexpected Dakar hero #3: Porsche 911

Porsche 911 Dakar rally 2024
Red Bull Rally

An air-cooled sports car out jumping the dunes? Really? Well, yeah. The safari trend of lifting a car, adding some chunky tires, and playing in the dirt is hardly new, especially for Porsche, which has been racing off-road for longer than you might realize. A father-daughter team brought a rowdy G-series 911 back to Dakar this year. Even with a veteran Dakar race car, it was no small feat for this team to navigate 9000+ miles while keeping the Porsche on top of the sand rather than in it.

Unexpected Dakar hero #4: Mercedes-Benz NG 2636

Mercedes-Benz 2636 6x6 NG at the Dakar Classic Rally 2024
Mercedes-Benz 2636 6×6 NG at the Dakar Classic Rally Daimler Truck

Six-wheel drive just sounds absurd—and then you see this monstrous blue beast, and the number of axles makes sense. A pair of six-wheel-drive trucks ran the Dakar Classic this year, which is an interesting story on its own. It gets even more impressive when you learn these trucks were originally race vehicles delivered to the Mitsubishi Dakar Team in 1986 and 1987 and were used by that team until 2009. Each truck is powered by 18.5-liter V-10 engine making 360 horsepower. They aren’t even capable of reaching the speed cap for the big trucks, but the Völkel team proved that doesn’t really matter by finishing anyway.

Racing is about more than just going fast, and these four cars and teams prove it. The experience of a unique vehicle in ordinary circumstances is fun. Add in a once-in-a-lifetime rally in that same car and, well, that’s gonna be a story told for a lot of years.

Mercedes-Benz 2636 6x6 NG at the Rally Dakar Classic 2024 Mercedes-Benz 2636 6x6 NG at the Dakar Classic Rally
Daimler Truck

 

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