Sunday, July 21, 2024

Oran O’Kelly hopes to become first Irish Dakar rider in over a decade

Oran O’Kelly is eyeing his Dakar Rally début in 2024, where the Dubliner would become the first Irishman to compete there since its move to Saudi Arabia in 2020 and the first rider from his country to run any Dakar since Stan Watt in 2013. He will race a KTM 450 Rally Replica for Vendetta Racing UAE.

O’Kelly began his career in motocross and competed in motocross championships in the United Arab Emirates alongside his brother Conor in the 2000s. He eventually transitioned to rally racing, having spent the last three years training.

After linking up with Vendetta, O’Kelly began entering FIM events in the region such as the Bajas World Cup‘s Dubai International Baja and World Rally-Raid Championship‘s Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. In March, when both events took place in the same month, he finished eighth in Rally2 at Abu Dhabi followed by fifteenth among all bikes in Dubai. His Abu Dhabi showing, where he consistently finished between eighth and eleventh across the five stages, also placed him third among Road to Dakar participants, a programme in which the best riders with no Dakar experience at each W2RC event earns free admission to the following year’s Dakar Rally.

Vendetta Racing is a Dubai-based operation that has fielded bikes at Dakar for those like David McBride and David Mabbs.

“Rally racing’s probably 50 or 60% navigation. You can have the fastest enduro or motocross bikes in the world, but if you can’t navigate, you’re only going to be able to ride the speed you can navigate at,” O’Kelly told “With the roadblock side and everything else and a lot of it is written in French, it can be quite difficult to understand and to navigate at speeds of up to 160 and 170 kilometres an hour, so stuff can get out of hand real quick. It’s quite a skill to be able to find that that sweet spot, that balance between riding the bike quick and fast but more importantly in the right direction and being aware of what’s to come, not just riding flat out.”

With Dakar being the largest rally raid in the world, it goes without saying that applications to take part next year are flooding in but there are only so many spots to go around. Race organiser Amaury Sport Organisation will begin accepting riders for 2024 on 20 July. Justin Gerlach, another Dakar 2024 hopeful who raced at Abu Dhabi, told The Checkered Flag in June that the FIM favours riders who have competed in races under its sanction which O’Kelly obviously satisfies, though the body also pays close attention to one’s performance in them and what is provided in their submitted documentation.

“My main objective is to get there first and it’s quite a challenge,” O’Kelly continued. “It’s just some preparation and get everything sorted and try to get some good sponsorship on board. My biggest objective is just to finish the race. It’s a mammoth mountain of a race. I think going there with any further expectations would be a little bit getting ahead of myself.”

The 2024 Dakar Rally kicks off on 5 January.