Dacia wants to win the Dakar next year. I mean… she would like to. But one thing must be left to them – this is going to be big!

All the fans knew about it, everyone was anxiously waiting. And the wait was all the more bitter because it was clear from the start that one Dacia would be driven by eight-time Dakar participant and nine-time world rally champion Sébastien Loeb. And the second car will be piloted by none other than the highly experienced five-time Dakar winner Nasser Al Attiyah, who has already tried cooperation with the British Prodrive this year (he helps build the racing special for Dacia). And we all know how it turned out in Saudi Arabia a few days ago. “Sorry, I’m not getting into that car again,” Al Attiyah said when his BRX engine failed for the second time. The new Dacia Sandrider will have a different engine than the BRX. But gradually…

Why does Dacia want to go to Dakar?

It is one of the largest motor companies in the world, and it is not only a great opportunity for Dacia to become visible, but it will also bring a lot of interesting insights for the development of ordinary cars. It will be money well spent, even if Dacia comes up with a completely new concept car and it’s not just a modified version of the Duster.

Photo: Dacia

Dacia and Prodrive never thought for a moment that a car for the Dakar could be based on the Duster. “People wouldn’t believe us anyway,” says Dacia honestly.

The Dakar Rally is also leaving Audi after three years, so there is definitely room for a big player. In addition to Dacia, the Ford factory team is also preparing to play.

Why isn’t it a Duster?

Both Dacia and Prodrive were clear about this from the beginning. David Durand, the chief designer of Dacia, repeated several times that the Duster is not a Dakar car, and that even if it had its shapes, no one would believe that a racing car and a production car have anything in common. And Prodrive already has a lot of experience in building a racing special for the Dakar and knows that it is best to start with a blank sheet of paper.

Really on white paper?

Well, there is a clear affinity here with the BRX Hunter, with which Loeb has already attempted to win the Dakar Rally four times. And he was also damn close twice (second), this year he finished third. But in this case, the BRX is more like a well of ideas and insights, the Sandrider is a new car that is inspired by the Manifesto concept from 2022.

Dacia and Prodrive really build this car from the ground up and even invited future pilots, not for development, but straight to the first debates, where they were asked what would help them win in the most difficult rally race. They then applied this knowledge in the construction of the Sandrider.

So what does that mean?

Drivers wanted easy access to tires and easy access to tools. Kevin Bouvier, Sandrider’s exterior designer, says: “We try to design all Dacia models smartly and simply. If we don’t need something, it doesn’t have to be there at all. And in this case, we don’t need a wheel cover, because the effect on aerodynamics is suppressed there and the priority is a quick tire change. Fewer parts, more efficiency.”

Photo: Dacia

The Dacia Sandrider was based on the FIA ​​technical regulations, where the maximum stroke of the shock absorbers is 350 mm.

It’s the same with tools. “Taking out the toolbox, opening it, then putting everything back… No, these are the things that delay. And you definitely don’t want to waste time in Dakar. That’s why we have, for example, magnetic surfaces of the bodywork, which is otherwise made of carbon fiber, where the nuts are attached when changing the wheels, so that they don’t get lost somewhere in the sand or in the stones.”

Why does he look so… Well, so strange?

Dacia and Prodrive took the rules for building T1+ racing specials and asked drivers what was important to them. They then guided themselves in the design of the Sandrider.

The boxy design is actually very aerodynamically efficient. Dacia even claims to have achieved a ten percent reduction in air resistance and a full forty percent reduction in lift compared to the competition. They avoided excess surfaces and tried to make the design as simple and efficient as possible.

The solution of the front hood is extremely interesting, when drivers can see in front of the car even through the gap in the hood. “In the dunes, you need the best possible view,” says Bouvier. “That’s why we decided on a so-called floating hood, where we improved the view in front of the car with this solution. If we can do something extra, we will.”

Photo: Dacia

The view between the front hood therefore has a clear function.

All parts of the hood are of course made of carbon, just like most competing cars. In this case, however, Dacia patented a special IR tincture that is baked into the carbon panels of the body, which is said to be able to reduce the temperature of the body by up to thirty-five degrees. Romain Gauvin, Dacia’s head of advanced design, elaborates. “We have patented a new material – carbon fiber resistant to infrared radiation. It simply reflects him. You don’t need to paint the car white, you don’t need white carbon fiber. This of course saves weight and is the easiest solution. And it will be significantly less hot in the cabin, which is probably the most important thing.”

And speaking of that cabin. The design is also very futuristic, huh?

The regulations do not particularly regulate the appearance of the cabin, they are rather strictly set as far as the safety of the crew is concerned. And Dacie pulled out of the drawer a modular solution, which it first introduced back in the seventies of the last century. Individual pilots will therefore set up the cabin individually at night according to what suits them.

Photo: Dacia

Functional. That’s probably the first thing that comes to your mind when you look inside.

Sandrider won’t have a Ford engine?

No it will not. After all, it would not really suit the Renault-Nissan consortium. So, even if it was not officially announced at the press conference, the twin-turbocharged three-liter six-cylinder is from Nissan’s workshops. It will of course have a stock block, but it will be properly modified for the needs of the Sandrider.

The biggest news is that it will burn synthetic fuel, which will be supplied by Aramco during the races. Dacia wants to show that synthetic fuels could be the solution for the future of combustion engines.

Photo: Dacia

It is not yet clear when and where the Dacia Sandrider will have its test premiere.

The gearbox and all-wheel drive will then come from Prodriv’s workshops, or from its suppliers. This is probably where the closest affinity to the BRX will be. And here there is no great room for experimentation either, what works has basically already been invented, and the design of the individual parts also focuses on the simplicity of the solution, among other things. For example, with Prokop’s Shrek, the front and rear arms are interchangeable, as are the differentials. And when designing the car, they also think about things like this, so that possible repairs require as few special tools as possible and that even the crew somewhere in the desert can handle it.

Quite possibly, individual parts of the chassis will receive modifications that will lead to an increase in the strength of the car. “I’m not interested in the weight of the front arms, I’m interested in their strength,” Nasser Al Attiyah lamented in the first half of the Dakar, when he had problems with his car and said he couldn’t go as hard as he imagined.

And that brings us to the riding line-up…

Yes, that could be even more interesting. We already knew that Loeb and Al Attiyah would be racing with Dacia at the Dakar, but now they are joined by T3 Dakar champion Cristina Gutiérrez. And the press release only mentions Al Attiyah as the third, and without much fanfare. It is obvious that the air will have to be cleared here.

In any case, all parties have relatively enough time for this, because as you can see from the photos, the Sandrider probably only exists on the computer so far, and Dacia only said that after a series of tests in different parts of the world, the Sandrider will make its debut at the Rallye du Maroc in October 2024 .He will then head to the 2025 Dakar Rally and should then ride the entire World Cross-Country Championship season. How long Dacia has the entire program planned for, however, was not announced at the press conference.

In any case, the preparation of the car is in full swing. And of course, the question is whether Dacia can succeed at the Dakar the first time. Anyway, he approaches it very responsibly and smartly. Or do you see it differently?