The most difficult endurance race on the planet – the brutal, unforgiving, and savage Dakar.

This adventure was founded and organized by the young French motorcycle racer Thierry Sabine. Rumor has it that he had a vision while he was stranded in the Libyan desert after a motorcycle accident in the 1977 Abidjan-Nice race. Sabine thought that the desert would be a grate place for any amateur to test their driving skills. After being rescued, he went back to France and began work on the first Paris-Dakar RallyAmazingly, it took him only two years to start of the first rally season in December 1979.

There were no restrictions on the type of vehicle, the drivers’ experience, or the budget of the teams. Consequently, 182 cars and bikes lined up in pursue of the unknown Dakar on the morning of 26 December 1979 at Place du Trocadéro, Paris. The rally became an immediate success. Drivers loved it for its tricky sand and gravel stages, and local African spectators were gathering along the roads to see the bikes passing by. Cyril Neveu was the first to win Dakar with his Yamaha 500 XT.

Thierry de Montcorgé’s Rolls-Royce

The 1980 second issue of the rally was quite unusual – a new category was introduced, allowing trucks to race along with cars and bikes. This was truly the first “no limitations” rally ever. The world also witnessed the strangest rally car – Thierry de Montcorgé’s Rolls-Royce, until then seen only as a luxurious limousine. Another surprise was the Citroen CX – a small city car, driven by the F1 pilot Jacky Ickx. This non-exclusive way of managing the rally made Sabine one of the most respected and loved rally managers in history.

In the following years, the Dakar route became longer and the rally attracted more participants. Thus, a midway resting point was introduced – the drivers could stop in Alger, catch up on sleep, repair their vehicles, and prepare for the second half of the rally.

Vladimir Chagin’s truck

Rally Dakar began attracting famous rally drivers from the World Rally Championship (WRC). Ari Vatanen, Juha Kankkunen, Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz all took part in the famous endurance race. Strangely enough, the most successful person is the Russian truck driver Vladimir Chagin (nicknamed The Tsar of Dakar), who won seven times with his Kamaz.

Manufacturers also wanted to test their off-road prototypes on the sands of the African deserts. Mitsubishi Pajero and VW Touareg launched tuned versions of their road going models in Dakar. Motorcycle makers also saw the rally as the best way to advertise their products. All of Yamaha, BMW, Honda, and KTM’s heavy-duty off-road bikes can be seen on the Dakar starting grid.

Still, Rally Darak has a dark side, too. Lost drivers had to wander through the desert, surviving by themselves for as long as four days without the organisers’ help. Losing your life wasn’t and still isn’t something unusual for this rally. There are no official figures, but for sure about 50 participants died –  some in accidents, others – caught in the middle of local militia gunfire. In addition, motorcycle drivers are often run over by bigger vehicles.

It is difficult to imagine why someone would risk their life in order to win the Dakar trophy. It’s common for bike drivers to break their wrists in the middle of the day and continue racing, seemingly unaware of the pain. In the Dakar case, it is the journey, not the destination:  Dakar is one of the last true adventures.

During the last couple of years, the rally is held in South America because of the conflicts in north Africa.

It might be because your current one has given up and refuses to go those “few more kilometers” together with you. Or it might be because you just got tired of each other’s appearance. Whatever the reason, moving on to a new car is a confusing time in a driver’s life.

I prefer to commit to used cars, as I’m not really a fan of signing a document that will practically marry you to a leasing company for the next (at least) five years. The other reason why I don’t approve of buying new, especially new models is that you can’t guess their week sides.

If you still want to buy a new one, however, here’s my advice. Buy a model that will soon be out of production. It might sound strange, but this could save you some trouble. Fist of all, all manufacturers begin producing spare parts before the official launch of the car, and stop making the spares long after the car is pulled out. This means you’ll be able to easily find whatever part you need on an affordable price. Second of all, by the time a particular model is ready to “retire,” all of the production defects are corrected (except for a few models), so you’ll be buying the best possible version. This also means that you’ll be getting the best possible equipment for the lowest price.  And, finally – dealers will be willing to give you a big discount. Old models are something unwanted and dealers want to get rid of the cars as fast as possible before a new model is introduced. You can either ask for a bigger discount on the asking price, or for longer service.

Now, used cars. First of all, be sure what model, year, and engine you want to get. Be specific – it does really pay off to do your research on it. The best way to go is to ask people who own the same car about their experience – running cost, fuel consumption – all the boring stuff. If you don’t know anyone who could help you, the Internet is the place to go (surprise, surprise). There are plenty of pages that can provide you with technical data, as well as with owners’ opinions. I recommend, where you can find a pretty accurate marking system.

Then comes the exiting part: searching and testing. I personally rely on the Internet. There are many search engines for used cars, no matter where you live. An important tip – do not buy from car traders.  The moment you set your foot in a car park crowded with shiny cars, you are immediately tempted to buy something else, rather than the car you have chosen. Furthermore, cars there are usually faulty or have hidden defects that you won’t notice. Avoid company cars as well – they have been driven by many people, none of whom is likely to have taken care of the cars.

So try to pick cars only from private owners.  Such vehicles have most probably been in use until the moment they were put for sale. Once you see the car, there a couple of things you should check for on the outside – oil leaks beneath the car, as well as rust on the lower part of the doors (that is often the most rusty place and is usually overlooked). Also check for any signs of collisions – the easiest way is to open the bonnet and the trunk and see if the sides are straight and symmetrical. Examining the inside of the car is fairly straightforward. Flick every switch, push every button, and twist every nob. If there is anything faulty youll spot it.

Finally, check if you and the car are compatible. During your test drive, it’s important to feel how the car rides and if you’re comfortable with it. Everybody has a different driving style and some cars just won’t fit. If that’s the case, walk away. There is no point in trying to like a car you don’t enjoy driving. Another thing to remember during the test drive is to turn the radio off and listen for any rattles, bangs, or squeeks. Be rude with the steering and brakes. Be an idiot behind the wheel for a minute or two and see how the car responds to hard braking.

If you like what you see, negotiate. It is almost impossible to find a used car in a perfect condition. However, this could be an advantage, as you can persuade the owner to lower the price because of the car’s flaws.

Finally, take your new car to a mechanic to change the brake pads, timing belt, oil, and filters. Even if all this doesn’t seem necessary, make sure you do it – you can never be sure when your car last visited a mechanic.

The Le Mans challenge

Posted: 24/10/2012 in Races
Tags: , , ,

Here is the summarized story of this legendary 24 hours of Le Mans. Initially, I wasn’t really interested in this race. Only after I  realized the sheer effort needed to keep the cars going for 24 hours, at 320 km/h on the main straight, did I understood why this is one of the oldest races in the world.

The race was first held in May 1923, in the small French town of Le Mans. The rules were simple – whoever managed to cover the greatest distance in 24 hours is the winner. Given that at the time some cars still had wooden wheels and the petrol was most probably filled with twigs, it was quite an insane idea. The winner of this first race was the Chenard-Walcker team with drivers André Lagache and René Léonard, who managed to cover a distance of a shade over 2,200 km (a little over 1,300 miles), averaging 90 km/h (55 mph).

Manufacturers saw an opportunity to showcase their engineering excellence. Car makers like Bentley and Bugatti made their names popular on the Le Mans circuit, which was becoming an institution for motorsports. It was more popular than even F1.

In the beginning of the 1960s, the “le mans start” was introduced. The cars were lined up on one part of the start/finish straight and the drivers on the other. When the flag was dropped, the drivers ran to their cars, started the engines and set off. As you can imagine, this wasn’t the safest way to start a race, so it was dropped eight years after its introduction.

The track itself  runs on both closed circuit and public roads (restricted during race weeks). Originally, it passed through the center of Le Mans, but this version of the circuit was short-lived.  The track length has been changed many times, mostly in order to ensure spectators’ safety.

Le Mans is one of the most demanding races that a professional driver can take on a close circuit, as it requires full concentration for periods longer than three hours at a time. The drivers have to deal with the deafening noise of cars, the high temperature in the cockpit, and the G-forces in the corners. Add the stress of the competition and the constant fear of mechanical malfunction, and you might imagine what it’s like racing there.

Lately, the race has focused on technical innovation (sometimes even showoff), and fuel efficiency. This might sound boring but take into consideration that we benefit from this – the window wipers, headlights, and tires we use today are Le Mans technologies.

The race is usually held every year in June. It is broadcasted all over the world both on major sports channels and online. I recommend, although the different manifacturers and teams often have their own online broadcasts.