The Toyota Gazoo Racing SA (TGRSA) 1000 Desert Race, the South African Rally-Raid Championship‘s premier event as the only marathon-length round, is only a few days away, as is a chance for the winner to compete in the Dakar Rally if they have never run the legendary race.
Along with events like the World Rally-Raid Championship‘s Andalucía Rally and Rallye du Maroc, the Desert Race is part of the Road to Dakar programme which is among various routes that aspiring competitors can use to qualify for the Dakar Rally. Privateers who have never raced in the rally or whose only Dakar experience came in the simultaneous but separate Dakar Challenge can join, but they have to explicitly register as RtD participants to be eligible. Besides a ticket to Dakar, Desert Race champions receive €8,000 in prize money.
Drivers and navigators who win the Desert Race and meet the Road to Dakar criteria can use their free pass on either the upcoming Dakar Rally or the following year’s. Brian Baragwanath, victor of the Desert Race in 2021, finished fourteenth overall in the Cars category at the 2022 Dakar Rally; had he elected to skip the 2022 Rally, he would be allowed to convert his Desert Race triumph into a 2023 entry. Although Baragwanath ran the 2015 and 2016 races, he did both in the Quads. Of course, even if he repeats the Desert Race win this year, he cannot get unrestricted access to Dakar and would have to sign up through traditional means.
“The Desert Race is one of the key races for us,” commented TGRSA principal Glyn Hall, whose team is the factory operation of race sponsor Toyota South Africa. “Not only is it the longest race on the calendar, but the terrain in which it is run also closely resembles that of the gruelling Dakar Rally, in which we compete each January. There is always extra pressure at the Desert Race, but we are hopeful that we’re well-prepared, and we’re looking forward to the event.”
Comprised of five loops around the Upington Landbou Expo, the race weekend begins with qualifying will on Friday, 24 June. The first three loops will be run on Friday and Saturday, followed by the last two on Sunday.
First held in 1975 as the Toyota 100 Desert Race, the Desert Race was long staged in neighbouring Botswana before being cancelled in 2020 due to COVID-19. The event was revived in South Africa last year with naming rights held by Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa, the South African arm of the newly crowned 24 Hours of Le Mans winner.
TGRSA is fielding four entries in the FIA T1+ class for Guy Botterill, Henk Lategan, Shameer Variawa, and Giniel de Villiers, all but Botterill having prior Dakar experience. Other notable entrants include Extreme E driver Lance Woolridge and brother Gareth, whose Neil Woolridge Motorsport team is developing a Dakar programme with World Rally Championship outfit M-Sport, and NASCAR Whelen Euro Series president Jérôme Galpin and his wife Anne, both of whom raced in the Dakar Challenge.