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2023 Dakar Rally: Off-Roading’s Most Relentless Endurance Test Yet

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The mechanics, somehow, seem to hold their nerves best, maybe because they signed up knowing that Dakar means sleep deprivation, working all night on the clock, then driving from bivouac to bivouac during the days. Their toil goes largely unnoticed by the outside world—a world from which we’ve increasingly become separated, differentiated, and removed.

Within this mise en scene, coping with the purposeful chaos that Dakar celebrates, who will blink first?

“I want to defend my world championship,” Baciuška told me after his stage win, “and I for sure targeted to win Dakar, but it’ll be not easy because everyone is pushing like hell and we just need to be clever.”

Keeping a cold mind, as Baciuška calls it, amid all the strategizing and tactics that come to the fore in the final few stages requires discipline, on top of considerations for endurance and reliability of the cars and their driver teams.

“This T3 category is a class stacked full of a lot of talent and there’s no room for error,” Quintero says after winning Stage 10. “I’m in a different strategy, for sure. I’m in third place and there’s not really a lot of room to make up time unless the guys in front of me make some mistakes.”

Nobody wants to hope that potential breakdowns or crashes by their opponents might make the difference in such an important race, but those aspirations of immaculate sportsmanship start to evaporate amid the building appetite for a win that can justify so much willful suffering.

The first day of the second marathon stage, energy fading at the nadir of three days in the Shaybah sandbox, I wake up from a midday nap with little to do after finishing a book. I’m all caught up on work, or as best I can be given the situation. Torturously, I check for cell reception, hoping to answer some emails or at least check the race results. Nothing. But a few people get enough service to load a page or two in the Dakar app. Jones somehow finished the stage tied with Quintero to the second and de Mevius now sits over an hour and 40 minutes behind. But we don’t know why. Can Jones start to exhale, sitting in first overall now with his teammate Quintero in second nearly an hour behind? There’s still lots of race left.

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