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The Dakar Rally

The Most Dangerous Race in the World

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Dakar Rally Motorbike through desert 2006

Dakar Rally 2006

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The Dakar Rally was canceled in 2008 due to security concerns in Mauritania. Because of this the Dakar Rally moved to South America in 2009 and it has remained there. The only "Dakar" left in the race is the competitors village named "Dakar", now located in an exhibition center in Buenos Aires. But you can still have fun and explore Africa by motorcycle yourself.

Dakar 2011 Fast Facts

  • The 2011 Dakar Rally will take place from 1 - 16 January.
  • Over 430 teams will participate from 51 countries.
  • Over 5500 miles (9000 km) will be raced through 2 countries (Argentina and Chile).
  • 183 bikers, 33 quad riders, 146 car teams and 68 truck teams will compete in the rally.

The Most Dangerous Race in the World

The Dakar Rally (or the Paris-Dakar Rally) first took place in 1979 and was organized by Frenchman Thierry Sabine. It is an extreme race, to say the least, that traditionally ran from Paris (France) to Dakar (Senegal). Due to various political disturbances and all out war in some of the countries, the route changes annually. In 2009 it changed drastically, and moved to South America.

Navigation skills are always the key to winning the race and this year (2011) competitors will battle the desert sands as well as high altitude and precarious mountain passes. The 2011 race has more motorcycles and quads racing than ever before, with new rules allowing KTM and other bikes to compete on an equal level.

The Dakar Rally is a very popular race, the organizers of the rally traditionally had to stop accepting applicants 6 months before the deadline. In 2008, the organizers introduced a selection process to make it fairer than just "first come, first serve". Given the last-minute cancellation in 2008, in (2009) many competitors enjoyed free shipping of their vehicles to South America. In 2011 there are fewer trucks racing than in Africa, probably due to the cost required to ship these vehicles across the ocean.

The Participants

Most of the participants are amateur adventure seekers with a lot of cash. But the race also attracts some major motor-racing stars looking to test their mettle. Car manufacturers like to use the rally to test the endurance of their new vehicles.

About 430 teams participate (from 51 countries) in three categories:

  • Large Trucks (68 in 2011)
  • Automobiles (146 in 2011)
  • Motorcycles (183 (and 33 quads) in 2011)
Over 200 supporting vehicles make up the rest of the caravan. Only 40 percent of all participants make it to the finish of this grueling race.

The Route

This year (2011) the race starts in Buenos Aires, on the Plaza de la Republica and runs through Patagonia, the Andes Mountains, along the shores of the Pacific Ocean in Chile and back to Argentina through the Atacama Desert. 15 stages will be driven over a two week period.

The Dakar Rally requires extreme endurance and navigational skills. There is only 1 rest day this year (2011) and it is usually spent tinkering the vehicles to run to maximum capacity despite the problems of sand, sand and more sand in every nook and cranny of the engines. Every stage of a regular rally runs about 300 miles. Click here for more on the route.

The Danger

It isn't called an extreme race for nothing. Every year people get lost or killed during the race. Some major incidents that made headline news include:

  • 1982 Mark Thatcher (Prime Minister Margaret Thatchers son) got lost for 6 days in the desert.

  • 1988 DAF the leading truck (which was also beating every car at the time) crashed and killed a driver.

  • 2005 Two of the top motorcyclists to compete in the rally died within 2 days of one another.

  • 2006 Australian KTM motorcyclist Andy Caldecott, in his third time in the Dakar, died as a result of injuries after a crash. 2 young spectators were also killed in the latter stages of the rally.

  • 2007 2 motorcyclists died, a South African crashed in the 4th stage and a Frenchman died of heart failure.

A total of 49 deaths among competitors have been recorded since the rally began. Spectators have also been injured and killed either by competitors or their support vehicles.

Past Winners

A quick glance at the list of past winners and you'll see that Stephane Peterhansel is the current rally hero. He has won 9 Dakar titles in both the car and motorbike categories.

In 2011, a total of 13 women will participate in each category.

The KTM motorbike has dominated past races and is looking for more victories. Mitsubishi has won the past 6 rallies in the car category and Kamaz has dominated in the truck category in recent years.

Low-cost alternatives to the Dakar Rally

For those who don't have the money to participate in the rather expensive Dakar Rally, but still hanker for the adventure, there are alternatives:

  • Plymouth-Banjul Rally This rally requires entrants to drive cars that are not worth more than 175 USD. This is a rally for charity and I quote from the web site, "Unofficially spoken of as 'The Ultimate Banger Challenge', another motley collection of cars costing less than 100 British Pounds will be assembled to drive over 3,000 miles from the South coast of Great Britain to the West coast of Africa. On this run, the unloved Russian LADA car is the ultimate choice of vehicle. Cheap, simple and tough, no Lada has every failed to complete the Challenge."

  • Budapest-Bamako Rally Started in 2005 by Zoltan Dulai, a Hungarian frustrated at the prohibitive cost of the Dakar Rally. This rally offers the same adventure without the strict entry requirements and raises money for the people of Mali. The rally started in Budapest on the 26th of December (2005) and drivers were encouraged to bring as many toys and books for the children they met along the way. No news of a possible 2006/7 rally at this time (Dec, 2006).

More information about the Dakar Rally

Sources:
Dakar Rally Official Site
MotorSM.com
Wikipedia, Paris Dakar Rally

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