The amateur element accounts for about 80% of the entrants -- including Tarek El Erian, who planned to be on his honeymoon during the race but put his wedding plans on hold after receiving a late wildcard entry.
"I'm grateful towards my wife-to-be because this is unthinkable in Egypt, but we postponed the marriage so that I could take part in the rally," he explained.
It is not just an event for the competitors -- the 2013 version will be televised in 189 countries, with an audience of 2.2 billion from start to finish.
But it will once again attract criticism, as has been customary since Sabine first came up with the idea after getting lost on his motorbike in 1977 in Libyan desert during another event, the Abidjan-Nice Rally.
France's Green Party once described it as "colonialism that needs to be eradicated" while the Vatican once called it "a vulgar display of power and wealth in places where men continue to die from hunger and thirst."
The race's history is entwined with tragedy. The helicopter crash which accounted for Sabine's death also led to the death of four others on board.
Just two years later, six people lost their lives, including a 10-year-old Malian girl struck by a competitor's car, and a mother and daughter killed when hit by a television crew's vehicle.
But for those who take part, the risks are part of the excitement.
Michel Merel, runner-up in the motorbike class in 1980, said fear was the biggest lure of the Dakar.
"The piste is like the ocean," he said. "It is wrong not to fear it. As for me, the piste makes me scared -- you don't mess around with it. You can't be an artist."
The race's most successful entrant is Stephane Peterhansel, a six-time winner of the motorcycle category who also has four car titles, including last year.
The Frenchman, 47, describes his Dakar years as "the most memorable of my life," reveling in the "complete emptiness, nothingness" of the desert tundra at night.
While Peterhansel will once again hope to make the headlines, Neathway is likely to be one of the unsung battlers just trying to make it home.
"I've always been a petrolhead and did motocross as a kid," he says. "Since recovering from my injuries, the Dakar has been the dream.
"Most people don't get to do that but I've got the chance. For me, the main thing is just to finish."