"I wanted to give everyone back the chance to dream," the organiser and former winner, Hubert Auriol, said in Dakar of his decision to limit the most popular category to cars built by amateurs and two-wheel-drive buggies.
Auriol has introduced new regulations restricting both car and wheel size and assistance during the rally, while increasing security. More than 30 people - including competitors and spectators - have been killed during the 19 years of the annual desert classic.
The rally, which starts and finishes here in the Senegalese capital, also crosses Mali and Mauritania as well as returning to Niger, which was excluded in recent years for security reasons. It ends in Dakar on 19 January.
"This itinerary is a way of saying that Africa made the Dakar [race] and the Dakar belongs to Africa," Auriol said.
One hundred cars, 128 motorbikes - including the four-times winner Stephane Peterhansel, and 55 trucks will be at the start.
The Belgian veteran Jacky Ickx, who won the fifth Paris-Dakar in 1983, is competing again, as are Toyota, although their Japanese rivals Mitsubishi are the favourites. The successful French teams Citroen and Peugeot are absentees.
Mitsubishi won back-to-back rallies in 1992, with Auriol, and in 1993 with his fellow Frenchman Bruno Saby to provide a break in the Peugeot and Citroen dominance over the last decade.
"With the big factories, the Dakar became unmanageable," Auriol said. "Two years ago, at the finish, I said: `This is crazy'. It all had to be changed. From now, we control the course."
Henri Pescarolo, another major competitor in the earlier days of the rally under its founder Thierry Sabine (who was killed in a helicopter accident 10 years ago) said: "I'm making my return to the Dakar because of the changes. I didn't enjoy taking part any longer. It had become a big Monte Carlo rally. I'm here as an amateur. I bought a T3 from Toyota and start almost without assistance, but we won't be far from the front."Reuse content