During the African era of the rally, only a handful of quad riders would routinely take starter’s orders. On discovering South America, the Dakar also opened itself up to the many quad riders who speed over the tracks and dunes of the continent all year round and who have shown themselves to be the quickest competitors in their category on what has become the major date in their diary. Besides the Patronelli brothers, who have taken five titles in the category, the Latinos have especially demonstrated strength in numbers at an elite level, picking up 18 podium finishes at the end of the rally over this period. This year, 30 South American quad riders will be tackling the Dakar, with very serious candidates for outright victory again amongst their ranks, even without the Patronelli brothers. The first in line is Ignacio Casale, the winner in 2014, who possesses the most impressive roll of honour. Last January, the Chilean rider was suffering physically, but still managed to stand up to Sergey Karyakin and finished 2nd in Buenos Aires. In the meantime, he beat some of his forthcoming rivals on the Baja Atacama, as he fine-tuned his preparation in the best conditions. Casale will have to do battle with some esteemed Argentinean neighbours, such as Pablo Copetti (3rd in 2017) or the eternally youthful Jeremias Gonzales (2nd in 2015). The Bolivians will not be outdone either, thanks to their standard-bearer Walter Nosiglia, 3rd in 2016 and a two times stage winner last January. Peru, which is making its comeback on the route of the Dakar, could also see its representatives shine in the general standings, just like Ignacio Flores did by winning the first stage of the Dakar in 2013: he will once again be present, as will his countryman Alexis Hernandez (8th in 2017).
Despite the overall domination of the South Americans, three Europeans have triumphed since 2009: Czech rider Josef Macháček, Poland’s Rafal Sonik and Russian Sergey Karyakin. Macháček took a break from racing and has still not entirely returned to the consistency that saw him win five stages in total, but the two other riders are still very much in with a shout for victory. The challenge will be the same for the two French quad riders who put in impressive performances on the last edition: Simon Vitse, who led the general standings at the midway point before withdrawing, and Axel Durie, who finished 5th on his first Dakar. However, for the Hispanics, the danger could also come from the Netherlands, in the form of world champion Kees Koolen, who won his first stage last year, and former biker Bastiaan Nijen-Twilhaar. Finally, although the category has lost Camelia Liparoti, who this year has been seduced by the charms of an SxS, there will still be a women’s title to fight for, between Bolivian Suany Martinez and Czech rider Olga Rouckova.