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 Rally. Amazingly, 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.
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.
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.