Testing Man & Machine, The Dakar Rally Turns 40

Posted

The famed off-road endurance race featuring a variety of motorcycles, cars and trucks kicked off its 40th annual rally this month in Lima, Peru.

The 14-stage race will take drivers and crews through nearly 10,000 kilometers of punishing terrain across Peru, Bolivia and Argentina before reaching the finish line in the town of Cordoba.

Still branding its old name and the Sahara-themed image of a desert nomad, the Dakar Rally has been contested in South America for the past 10 years due to security concerns in northwest Africa.

Days prior to the start of the 2008 race, four French tourists were killed by terrorists in Mauritania, prompting officials to cancel the chase and eventually relocate it permanently.

Less known in the U.S., the Paris-Dakar Rally as it was then known got going in 1979 and was the brainchild of French motorcycle racer and adventurer, Thierry Sabine.

The inaugural competition drew 182 vehicles, which took off from Paris and roared across France, transferring to Africa, and then rumbling across the forbidding dunes of the Sahara to finish in Dakar, the capital of Senegal.

Today, more than double the number of the original two and four-wheeled vehicles are involved in conquering South America’s inhospitable deserts and mountains. France-based Amaury Sport Organisation (“ASO”) owns the Dakar trademark and organizes the event annually.

ASO is also the entity behind the prestigious Tour de France bicycle race. The company specializes in promoting multi-stage marathon races on land and sea, often capturing the events with stunning aerial footages.

While the sight and sound of fuel-guzzling machines roaring through the desert might resemble a post-apocalyptic “Mad Max” scene, the Dakar Rally evokes a mystique among off-road enthusiasts who will spend at least $75,000 to prep and register for the rally.

Only 20% of the participants are professional riders, while the rest are amateur thrill seekers who sign up to experience the world’s premier sand, dirt and gravel motor race.

Drivers and riders will crash, bog down, get lost and lapse into exhaustion as they blaze through hundreds of kilometers a day in grueling terrain ranging from sand dunes to oxygen-depleted mountain passes.

France’s Stephane Peterhansel is the most successful racer in the history of Dakar, having won 6 events in the motorcycle category and 7 in cars. Russia’s Vladimir Chagin is the all-time champion in the truck category with 7 total victories.

Austria’s motorcycle manufacturer KTM has dominated its category since 2000, while Russia’s truck maker Kamaz has won more races than any other big hauler. In cars, Mitsubishi, Peugeot, Volkswagen and Citroen all registered multiple wins.

But the Dakar Rally is not without its critics. Detractors claim the event generates more dust on its racing circuit than economic benefits to the local communities. Others label it a form of colonialism and a vulgar display of wealth and power in the face of impoverished countries.

Like most high-speed motor sports, the annual 2-week rally also has its share of injuries and fatalities. Since its inception, 28 competitors have died from crashes and 42 others from incidental collisions, such as road-side accidents.

Founder Thierry Sabine himself and four others were killed during the 1986 race when a helicopter they were flying in crashed into a dune during a sand storm.

In a class of its own, Dakar invites racers to dare and dream. No other challenge mixes the romance for adventure with the limits of human endurance and motor mechanics.

A collection of motorcycle adventure books and DVD's is available for sale on our site.

Dakar, auto racing, Dakar Rally

Comments

No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment

Shop For Our Books & DVD's

WEEKLY SPORTS PUZZLE

View larger Puzzle archive


THIS WEEK

10 years ago

MOTOR RACING July 20, 2008  Lewis Hamilton wins the German Grand Prix driving for McLaren-Mercedes. The victory was Hamilton’s second consecutive triumph after taking the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. At season’s end, the 23-year old would become the then youngest and only black racer in F1 history to win a championship title.

20 years ago

GOLF July 17, 1998  Mark O’Meara shoots a 280 to win the 127th British Open at the Royal Birkdale Golf Club. In a playoff against fellow American Brian Watts, O’Meara claimed his second major championship of the year after topping the Masters three months earlier. Those victories were the only major titles of his 34 professional wins.

30 years ago

HOCKEY July 16, 1988  In a lavish event dubbed by the Canadian press as the “Royal Wedding”, Wayne Gretsky weds actress Janet Jones; the couple would have 5 children. After 20 seasons in professional hockey, Gretsky wrapped up his career in 1999 playing for 4 teams and producing more goals and assists than any other player in NHL history.

40 years ago

BASEBALL  July 17, 1978  Yankee Manager Billy Martin and slugger Reggie Jackson clash at a Royals game after Jackson tried to bunt when he was told to hit away, causing Martin to suspend him. A week later, Martin himself would resign following 3 tumultuous years with the NY club, but the troubled and controversial manager would eventually return.