Just as Eleanor Roosevelt aptly said: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” Dreams have always been the gateways to our imagination, transporting us to incredible worlds where reality and fantasy intertwine. Last time, I had a wonderful dream—a dream in which I found myself in the shoes of a circuit rock star, a true embodiment of Walter Röhrl or Jacky Ickx. This dream took me through the majestic expanses of the Sahara, at the helm of an iconic car, the brand-new Porsche 911 Dakar.
In this dream, The Head of Press & PR of Porsche France contacted me with an intriguing question: “Would you like to fly to Morocco and drive the new 911 Dakar in the Sahara, on a route once traversed by the Paris-Dakar Rally?” Enthralled by Porsche’s legacy and success with the 911 in this epic rally across Europe and North Africa, my response was immediate.
However, like any beautiful reverie, this one abruptly ended. My awakening was heralded by the blaring alarm, bringing me back to reality. As if in premonition, I received an email invitation two days later to test drive the Porsche 911. However, this adventure wouldn’t take place in Morocco.
If you’re still reading these lines, it’s either because the twist in my story amuses you or because you’re eager to learn more. Well, instead of narrating the details in an additional article about this extraordinary car, I invite you to extend this dream. All we need is a healthy dose of imagination, a real test drive in the latest Porsche 911, and, of course, thorough documentation.
At Roadness, we firmly believe that travel is the bridge between imagination and reality. So, you’re on the threshold of an experience that will allow you to learn more about a country I hold dear and immerse yourself deeply in the fascinating world of the Porsche 911 Dakar.
Legendary names in motorsport, such as Walter Röhrl and Jacky Ickx, have piloted 911s in rallies—rear-wheel-drive variants like the Keen Project Safari, the famous 953 model, and the spectacular 959. Perhaps you’ve never heard of the 953, which participated only once in the Paris-Dakar Rally in 1984, with René Metge at the wheel, winning the victory. It was equipped with the very first experimental all-wheel-drive system for the 911, a technology that evolved into the 911 Carrera 4 for the general public.
While the largest cities in Morocco remain far from the Sahara, our adventure begins in Errachidia, where I meet Idriss, my Murshid As-Sahra (trans. as مرشد الصحراء = Desert Guide). Despite having more than 90,000 inhabitants, this city feels much smaller when you fly over its streets or land at its impeccably maintained airport. I’m greeted with delights from the local bakery and sweet mint tea. Then, aboard the Dakar-liveried 911s worthy of Martini, I head south, to the deep and majestic orange dunes that I had only seen in photos until now.
The roads I take are uneven and weathered by the sun, except for a few impeccable stretches. Most of the vehicles I encounter are trucks. Knowing the country well and having been warned by Idriss about zealous law enforcement, I diligently adhere to the 100 km/h speed limit. However, the only encounters I have seem more interested in my Instagram account, even asking for a launch control demonstration far from a checkpoint.
As I progress southward, villages emerge along the fertile banks of a winding river, appearing and disappearing every few kilometers. If you remove cars, cell phones, and asphalt, this scene could have unfolded at any time over the past millennia. More than a kilometer or two in any direction, civilization gives way to pure desert.
I feel profoundly ‘humble’ behind the wheel of a striped sports car, worth over 200,000 euros, overtaking sandal-clad families carrying their week’s provisions on foot. Children run behind the curtains hanging from modest cubic houses, waving, seeking a bit of money, and taking photos with their phones. Men ride donkeys and dromedary camels, laden with construction materials and goods for their shops, shoulders hunched, trotting along the desert’s edge. Occasionally, someone gives us a thumbs-up. I can’t blame them.
The dunes take shape, grow, spread, dance, recede, and encircle me. This entire environment has become a magnificent impressionist painting with a double edge. The shapes and colors are soft, velvety, perfect, and dangerous. We are completely alone amidst the immense dunes; every meter covered feels like an endless distance. Idriss goes ahead and returns again and again to pave the way. We’ll have to cross a large dune…
We don’t linger; we’ve made good progress in the afternoon, it’s still hot, and we’re trying to find a spot in the dunes to spend the night. Idriss finds us a very nice bivouac spot. From there, I’ll be able to drive, photograph, take walks, and challenge the steep slopes of the dunes in my technically vermouth-striped machine. It’s finally time to activate the button to raise the suspension and put the Dakar in Rally mode adapted for drifting, which prioritizes power distribution to the rear. The all-wheel-drive system works in conjunction with torque vectoring and rear-wheel steering to optimize controlled sliding and drift angles beyond the limit of grip, without producing artificial or surprising reactions. All-wheel-drive systems tend to induce understeer when power is applied in the middle of a turn or during a slide, while rear-wheel-drive systems tend to increase drift angle under power. The Dakar’s system combines the advantages of all-wheel drive during acceleration while avoiding the drawbacks of understeer.
Due to its flat-six engine suspended over the rear axle, you need to approach corners slightly differently than with a front or mid-engine car. If you abruptly lift off the throttle while having a bit of weight transfer, you must keep the accelerator pressed to keep the weight at the rear. Lifting off the accelerator suddenly shifts the weight abruptly to the front wheels, while the mass of the engine acts like a pendulum, swinging strongly in the other direction, leading the car into a spin.
On a loose surface, there’s no traction to catch a slide. If you do the same thing, release the accelerator and gently lift off, you almost entirely lose the pendulum effect. The car slides progressively, smoothly transitioning from one direction to another. My faith in the 911’s off-road greatness is reinforced time and time again.
In reality, you don’t need a 911 Dakar with its raised ground clearance, custom off-road Pirelli tires, and protective plates. Before driving one, I had heard many people say that these cars were perfect for daily city use. But a basic Porsche Carrera 4 with a raised front does remarkably well on bumpy urban roads and in unfavorable weather. For city driving, the 911 Dakar is as well-suited as a Ford Raptor is for off-road trails. However, its longer suspension effectively absorbs large road irregularities, although on cracks and small bumps, it’s surprisingly firm.
Indulging in a craving at any time, I perform a launch control start for pure pleasure, sending stones and sand into the wheel arches, off the protective plates, and onto the support vehicle behind me. I reached nearly 100 km/h on dirt in just about four seconds. Maintaining a speed of 120 to 130 km/h on the rally’s gravel sections was no problem, although I had to stop every few minutes because the dust made it impossible to see a few meters ahead. The Dakar’s engine delivers 473 hp and is based on the Carrera 4 GTS engine. The only modification is a reinforced air filter and a specially designed housing to withstand extreme conditions like these.
Fortunately, the sand in the legendary Sahara dunes doesn’t hang in the air. It floats and falls, resembling driving in deep snow more than anything else. However, unlike snow, the car stops quickly when needed. I engaged the Dakar’s all-terrain mode, raising the suspension to the maximum and distributing some of the power to the front wheels…
The next six minutes brought the broadest, most blissful smile I’ve had in 20 years of professional driving. Dunes aren’t like a traditional rally stage. They rise and fall, twist left and right, present steep slopes, blind drops, and high crests, each requiring an approach with the accelerator firmly pressed, sending plumes of sand twenty feet high into the air, covering the hood and windshield as the grooved tires tear through the terrain. Like all 911s, the Dakar benefits from an extremely low center of gravity, which proves invaluable in circumstances where a Pajero or another regional SUV might feel like it’s about to roll over. I boldly attack a dune. Halfway through, I suddenly turn the steering wheel to the left and floor the accelerator, surfing the dune like Kelly Slater on a wave at Waikiki. Behind the wheel of the Dakar, I am finally that rock star of driving from my dream. I am Walter Röhrl. I am Jacky Ickx. And I’m going to drive this car to the end of the Sahara…
The 911 Dakar is a special car, and most who acquire it will cherish their investment rather than push it to the extreme. By limiting production to just 2,500 units worldwide, Porsche almost instantly ensured the rarity of this car, giving it collector’s status. However, this rarity comes with a certain delicacy that contrasts with the Dakar’s off-road purpose. Only a few individuals, those who are either wealthy, incredibly audacious, or both, will dare to drive this car the way it was designed, pushing it to its limits.
If you have the chance to get your hands on a Dakar, I strongly encourage you to fulfill my audacious dream by using the Porsche 911 Dakar as it was meant to be used. Ideally, through a vast desert. Ideally, in North Africa. Ideally, in a place that’s truly worth the visit.