Dakar Rally organizers inaugurating Classic category in 2021

Porsche 959s, Lada Nivas, and Renault 20s will again play in the sand

  • 1982 Renault 20 Turbo 4x4
  • 1982 Renault 20 Turbo 4x4
  • Mercedes-Benz 280GE
  • Mercedes-Benz 280GE
  • Mercedes-Benz Unimog
  • Start of the 1982 Paris-Dakar
  • Toyota Carina
  • 1982 Toyota Dakar team
  • Porsche 911 3.2 Carrera
  • Porsche 959
  • Porsche 959

In early 2021, the Porsche 959 and the Lada Niva will have at least one thing in common: They'll both be eligible to participate in the Dakar Rally after a long hiatus. Neither will realistically be able to beat the racers that will be built specifically for the 2021 event, so the organizers created a Classic category that's open to cars and trucks.

Contrary to what its name suggests, the Dakar Rally hasn't been held in Africa since it was canceled in 2008 over terrorism-related fears. It was held in South America in the 2010s, and it moved to Saudi Arabia in 2020. That's where older racers will be given the opportunity to show what they're capable of after decades of hibernation. Although the organizers haven't published a list of eligible vehicles, they noted the Classic category is open to any car or truck that participated in the rally before 2000. Motorcycles aren't allowed to race -- at least not yet.

Vehicles entered in the Classic category will follow roughly the same route as those competing in the race, the start and finish points will be the same, but the goal won't be to drive flat-out for days on end. The challenge will consist of following the timing set for each stage as closely as possible. In this sense, the Dakar Classic will look a lot like the Historic Monte Carlo Rally held annually at about the same time as the normal race.

Professional pilots have generally won the Dakar, but the event has long been open to amateurs seeking the adventure of a lifetime, and they've enlisted a diverse selection of cars to take them across the Sahara. First, second and third place in the first Paris-Dakar held in 1978-1979 went to a Range Rover, a Renault 4, and a Fiat Campagnola, respectively. Dozens of intrepid racers have completed the event in a Mercedes-Benz G-Class, a Lada Niva, or a Toyota FJ/BJ. Oddballs include a four-wheel-drive Renault 20 Turbo, which won in 1982, a Rolls-Royce Corniche dropped on a tubular frame and powered by a Chevrolet-sourced small block V8, and, of course, the 959 that Porsche originally developed for the WRC's canceled Group B category. Some of these cars are in manufacturer museums, so we're hoping they're gently woken up and sent to the desert.

Enthusiasts who want to jump over dunes in a vintage car have until October 2020 to sign up for the Dakar Classic. The race starts in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on January 3 and ends 5,000 miles later in the same city on January 15. Additional details about the route classic cars will follow will be published in the coming months.

"It's important for us to honor the Dakar's pioneer," concluded David Castera, the event's director.

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