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ADV NewsTaking On The Giants: What It’s Like To Race Dakar As A Privateer

Taking On The Giants: What It’s Like To Race Dakar As A Privateer

The unsung heroes of the Dakar sacrifice everything to race the giants of motorsport.

Published on 12.21.2022

That magical time of the year is upon us once again, and it has nothing to do with Christmas. It’s the lead up to the annual Dakar rally, which kicks off on December 31st. No doubt, pro riders like Sam Sunderland, Toby Price and Ricky Brabec are ready with their A game, thanks, not in small part to their ability to train and compete, supported, full-time. 

But what’s it like for the privateers that make up the bulk of riders who enter the event each year? What does it take for them to get to Saudi Arabia for the flag drop on the world’s toughest motorsports event? 

Racing Dakar as a privateer

For most it starts with a dream, of course. But in the case of Team All1, featured in a new Red Bull Rally video From Hero to Zero, it began with the bucket list of a lost brother, Carlos Libre’s twin, Alex, who died in a motorcycle accident in 2017. We learn from Carlos that shortly after his death he came across his brother’s handwritten list of 101 things he wanted to achieve in his life. Along with career and other life goals, there were athletic endeavors, including #5: “Dakar on bike.”


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For the daring amateurs who want to compete in the Dakar, the massive expenses, which can amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars, are just one of many hurdles. There’s also the challenge of logistics plus training hard enough and in appropriate conditions, something that comes easily to the pros who are flown to events and training sessions throughout the year preceding Dakar, all the while under the guidance of trainers, nutritionists and physiotherapists.  

While the video focuses on the heartfelt quest of Team All1, it also works in some interview clips with KTM’s Factory 2023 Factory riders Toby Price and Matthias Walkner, and Sam Sutherland makes a cameo. Price says it’s the spirit of Dakar that “gets in your bloodstream” and brings both camps of riders to the event. And while his hat is off to the privateers, he also notes he’d rather spend a hundred grand chilling out on the beach in Bora Bora. Walkner is likewise baffled by the effort it takes a privateer to do something he says isn’t always fun. 

Racing Dakar as a privateer

And therein lies a telltale factor. It’s the pros’ job to ride in the world’s toughest motorsports event, whereas it’s the amateurs’ dream, and likely the most hard-fought challenge of their lives. 

So what are the actual requirements to chase that dream and compete alongside the pros? Because the risk of bodily injury is higher it’s harder for bike and quad riders to get an entry than car and truck drivers. A rider needs to be 18, have an FIA/FIM Cross-Country Rally license and fill out an extensive questionnaire documenting their experience and skill level. Rookies are also required to complete at least one of the FIM-sanctioned world championship race or other competition that falls under the “Road to Dakar” label. Their completed dossier is then scrutinized by Dakar’s governing body before being accepted. 

Racing Dakar as a privateer

Alex Libre’s bucket list became dream fodder not only for his twin, Carlos, but a growing collective of people who have come together to check off Alex’s listed goals. First came the Barcelona Ironman 70.3 race, where 300 people competed on the All1 (All Together) team to become the largest group of people to ever enter an Ironman event. Next came the Garmin Titan and Cape Epic mountain bike stage races in Morocco and South Africa.

For Dakar, Team All1 is made up of 7 riders and dozens of supporters, with Carlos at the center of it all. To qualify, the team rode in Rally of Morocco in October, where Carlos suffered a sobering get-off that left him with a broken finger and collarbone. Barely healed, he and the team will be in Saudi Arabia to fulfill a dream that has now become their own. Their motto: “Dreams come true when they are shared.” 

Racing Dakar as a privateer

After the dream and the lengthy selection process comes the hard work. Even though the amateurs follow the exact same route and rules as the pros during the day, their experience off the bikes couldn’t be more different. “It is a completely different world,” says pro rider Price of the privateers. “We fly to the races…everything is organized and put in place for us. We have campers and cooks and masseuses.” The amateurs, in contrast, are completely on their own. After riding 500 kilometers or more each day they must perform all maintenance and repairs by themselves and are lucky to sneak in a couple hours of sleep in wind-torn tents each night. 

Racing Dakar as a privateer

But one cool thing revealed in the Zero to Hero video is how KTM and its legendary Dakar Factory Team, which had 18 consecutive wins before Ricky Babrec on a Honda broke the streak winning in 2020, feels compelled to help the privateers fulfill their Dakar ambitions. For owners there is a customer service package available that offers access to a “customer service truck” during Dakar, which carries every imaginable spare part for the 450 Rally bikes, so racers can just come get whatever they need (though the wrenching is still 100% on them). 

“We are a group of friends,” says Carlos of the All1 collective of riders, who can be easily spotted on their matching teal and white KTM 450 Rally bikes. Yet All1 is more organized than most privateers, many who scrape their way through the grueling stages completely solo. Major props are due, even from the likes of Toby Price. “The superstars are the privateer guys,” he says, “because they have to work a lot harder.”

Author: Jamie Elvidge

Jamie has been a motorcycle journalist for more than 30 years, testing the entire range of bikes for the major print magazines and specializing in adventure-travel related stories. To date she’s written and supplied photography for articles describing what it’s like to ride in all 50 states and 43 foreign countries, receiving two Lowell Thomas Society of American Travel Writer’s Awards along the way. Her most-challenging adventure yet has been riding in the 2018 GS Trophy in Mongolia as Team AusAmerica’s embedded journalist.

Author: Jamie Elvidge
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