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Dakar Rally The Worlds Toughest Race

Posted by Noel Alderman on

The Dakar Rally is known as the ‘world’s toughest motor race’. A gruelling off-road endurance contest where finishing is an achievement in itself, the Dakar Rally has grown from humble origins to being a highlight on the world motorsports calendar. 

The rich tapestry of landscapes in Saudi Arabia will host the 2021 Dakar Rally, as they did in 2020.  From 2009 to 2019, the gruelling Dakar Rally has contested in South America, starting and leaving from Buenos Aires, Argentina. But it wasn't always a travelling show

Traditionally the Paris Dakar Rally began in Paris and crossed Andalucia to North Africa.

HISTORY OF THE DAKAR RALLY
Each year, around new year the Paris - Dakar Rally used to bring crowds of fans to Andalucia. Cars, Motorbikes, Quads, and Trucks competed for titles in this huge media event as they travelled from Paris, down through Andalucia and then across the North Africa.
The route changed every year but the fist few days of the two week event were from Paris to Southern France, Southern France to Northern Spain and Northern Spain to North Africa usually crossing from Algeciras, Malaga or Motril. These first few days were not actually a race, with the organisers calling it a 'liaison' stage but the crowds still gathered by the road to cheer on the competitors.

Dakar Rally itself was an accidental discovery. During the Abidjan-Nice Rally of 1977, French rally driver Thierry Sabine got lost in the Tenere Desert, south of the Sahara. As he tackled mountainous sand dunes and moon-like terrain, he had an epiphany: these treacherous conditions would make the ultimate off-road challenge. 

The original Dakar Rally route
Sabine devised a 10,000km (6,214 mile) route from Paris to Dakar, via Algeria and Niger. In December 1979, 182 vehicles braved it for the very first time; only 74 finished. Used in the first 13 years of the Rally, the Paris-Dakar route took around two weeks to complete, but in 1992 the route was altered with Cape Town chosen as the final destination. Every year since, the route has changed, with 1995 starting in Spain and 2000 finishing below the Giza Pyramids. Despite the constant tinkering, one city remained virtually omnipresent, featuring in 26 of the first 28 contests: Dakar.

Traditionally split into three main categories – bikes, cars and trucks – the Rally has since widened its roster to include quads (2009) and ultra-terrain vehicles (2017), but the machines only make up one half of the cocktail.
In 1979, 80% of the competitors were amateurs, providing the Dakar Rally with instant appeal: ordinary adventurers undertaking an extraordinary adventure. The event has gradually professionalized, but that hasn’t dissuaded some well-known amateurs from giving it a go, including former Chelsea and Tottenham Manager André Villas-Boas, French singer Johnny Hallyday and former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher’s son, Mark Thatcher, who in 1982 got lost for six days in the Sahara Desert.

In 2008, four French citizens and three Mauritanian soldiers were murdered in the build-up to the Rally, with Al Qaeda suspected of specifically targeting the race. The Rally organizers, Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), cancelled the Rally last minute over security concerns. 

Chile and Argentina offered themselves up as replacement routes and the ASO took the offer, relocating to South America in 2009. Over the  next decade the Dakar Rally has been held across the continent, with the 2019 version being held exclusively in Peru. From 2020 the race has been run in Saudi Arabia.

Sebastian Loeb is considered the greatest rally driver of all-time, having won nine consecutive World Rally Championships (WRC) between 2004-2012. However, Loeb has never won the Dakar Rally after three attempts, failing to finish in 2018.
Unique tests call for unique expertise, and some manufacturers and competitors have flourished in this specialized contest. Russian truck manufacturer, Kamaz, has won 13 times in the last 16 years. Motorbike constructer KTM hasn’t tasted defeat since 2000, with two drivers, Marc Coma and Cyril Despres, sharing every win between 2005 and 2015. Yet, they all stand in the shade of ‘Mr Dakar’: Frenchman Stephane Peterhansel who has won the Dakar Rally a record 13 times, six times on two wheels, seven times on four.

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