This will be a first Dakar outing for James Hillier, but the British biker is certainly no stranger to riding under extreme conditions. Since 2008, he has regularly taken part in the famous Isle of Man TT, which involves hurtling around the island’s narrow and winding roads at speeds of well over 200 kilometres an hour. Having started with trials as a boy and spent over a decade participating in the world’s ‘ultimate road race’, as he describes it, the 37-year-old is now looking forward to his debut at the world’s ‘ultimate offroad race’. James has gradually been drawn to hard enduro and rally raid in recent years, showing his potential by claiming top-20 finishes in Andalusia and Abu Dhabi. The Dakar is a different beast, though -and, as if getting through 15 gruelling days in Saudi Arabia wasn’t enough of a challenge, he has decided to compete in the assistance-free Original by Motul class. For a man who has clocked the seventh-fastest lap time at the Isle of Man TT (at an eye-watering 132.414 miles per hour), it won’t be easy sacrificing speed to make sure he stays on top of navigation and keeps his bike in one piece, but James is determined to make sure he is standing on the finishers’ podium in Dammam on 15 January.
James, the first winner of the Tourist Trophy to enter the Dakar, hopes his road racing experience will assist his risk calculus and help him make it to the finish.
James Hillier has only just started dipping his toes into rally raids. The Englishman has been an enduro racer for a long time, but he has only participated in two rallies so far, Abu Dhabi and Andalusia, where he earned his ticket to the 2023 Dakar in the Original by Motul class. Yet the man from Ringwood, Hampshire, is no newcomer to motor sports. James is one of those road racing junkies who are hooked on adrenaline and want nothing more than to hurtle past the trees and low walls of the British countryside at over 200 km/h. The 37-year-old father, now based in Bournemouth, has a win and several podium places to his name in the Tourist Trophy, as well as the North West 200. He also holds the seventh fastest time ever on the 60 km Isle of Man TT Mountain Course. “Road racing puts your life into perspective”, he says. “There’s nothing more hardcore than this. It makes you want to seize the moment because you never know when the end will come.” This taste for adventure led him to sign up for the Dakar. “I already used to watch this race as a little boy. The idea of gearing up for it and make it to the finish after starting from scratch was very exciting. That’s why I decided to take the plunge.” The man on KTM number 80 only truly realised the scale of the challenge when he reached the Sea Camp. “Before I got on the plane, I was so busy with all the preparations that I hardly had any time to think about the road ahead”, he confesses. “I’ll be honest, the bivouac blew me away. It’s on a completely different level from what I saw in Abu Dhabi. It’s all new to me —the people, the atmosphere…” James chose the freedom of the malles-moto for his first Dakar, which should also help him keep his feet on the ground. “My goal is to make it to the finish. I’ll have to take good care of my machine, which means not pushing to the limit”, he points out. “Rally raids may be less dangerous than road racing, but not by a wide margin. At any rate, my experience will help me to keep my ambition in check, as I know how far I can push and where my limits lie. Clarity of mind is key in events where everything can change at any time.” Last year, Danilo Petrucci stole the show in his Dakar debut. The British biker, of course, is aware of the former MotoGP rider’s exploit. “What he pulled off was incredible”, he says. “I’d love to be capable of performing well here someday, but that’s not my goal right now. I’m here to have fun at a reasonable pace and get my hands on the finisher’s medal. I’m the first TT biker in the Dakar, I know I’ll be peppered with questions when I get back home. There are quite a few road racers who would also love to discover this event.” James Hillier is all set to be an inspiration for Old Blighty.
Stage 11. James is at the bivouac and after 426km today, 275km of them over some of the biggest dunes on the planet. We hope he’s having a cold beer!
Stage 10. We have been waiting for a message from James, but looking at the map, I don’t think there is a signal! Rally GPS says he’s back at the bivouac.