In the Beginning
Frenchman Thierry Sabine rode the Abidjan-Nice rally and lost himself in the Ténéré desert of Africa. Sabine found inspiration in the harsh but beautiful landscapes of the desert and conceived an idea—create a race that ran from France to the Western shores of Senegal.
Thierry Sabin saw the Dakar as “A challenge for those who go. A dream for those who stay behind.”
Sabine was a big personality who made friends as easily as he made enemies. A bit of a showman and a consummate marketer, he turned the Dakar from a dream into a reality and in return created one of the most well-known races of its kind.
Today, the Dakar Rally stands as one of the biggest annual racing events in the world. A cross country, long distance race that takes place over several days and can encompass up to 10,000 Kilometers (6,200 miles). Rider and machine are tested to their limits over heat and harsh desert conditions such as rock, mud, dunes and large swaths of vast windswept desert terrain. Racers can easily move from different climates over the course of the race.
The Rally was originally known as the Paris-Dakar Rally and began in December, 1978. The original routes ran from Paris, France along trails through Algeria, Niger, Mali, Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) and Senegal.
The inaugural route for the 1979 Paris-Dakar Rally.
December 26, 1978. Racers staged in the Place du Trocadéro near the Eiffel Tower in the first ever Dakar Rally. Registration for the inaugural run reached 182 competitors with only 74 vehicles reaching the finish line. [photo:RDA/Getty Images]
In 2008, there were threats made against the competitors by terrorists in Mauritania, Africa. Mauritania was part of that year’s route. Race organizers canceled the race in what would be the last time the race ended in its traditional finish in Senegal.
Race organizer moved the race to South America and has been held there annually since.
The Dakar is open to all who would wish to participate in the rally. Most of the participants are amateurs, with a small percentage of racers coming from the professional ranks.
What Type of Event is the Dakar Rally?
The Dakar belongs to the class of racing known as “rally raids.” Rally raids encompass multiple “legs” witch can be a certain number of km/miles. Each daily leg of the race also includes a time requirement that the riders must meet. Racers employ support staff if repairs are needed at the end of a leg. The racers themselves need some degree of mechanical know-how in order to make repairs during the race if needed.
Rider Ivan Jakes recovers after being struck by lightning in the 2017 edition of the Dakar. Jakes went on to finish the race.
Types of Vehicles
Motorcycles, quads, buggies, SUVS and trucks compete in the Dakar. Its wide entry of vehicles makes the Dakar an exciting and unique race with competitors coming from all over the world. The vehicles competing in the Dakar are primarily off-road vehicles modified for the long distances and harsh conditions.
Notable Events in Dakar Rally History
1982 Margaret Thatcher’s son is lost for six days. The “Iron Lady” employed a search team to find her son Mark when the rear axle on his Puegot 504 broke away. Algerian land forces were deployed as well as aircraft from Algeria, France and the U.K. The British Prime Minister paid all expenses related to the search for her son.
1986 Thierry Sabine is killed in a helicopter crash. Sabine, in an attempt to help racers stuck in the sand, employed a helicopter to move along the course of the route near Timbuktu in Mali. High winds and poor visability lead to the crash, killing Sabine, French musician Daniel Balavoine, a French journalist, and two pilots.
1988 The Dakar fielded the most entrants ever at 603. This was a particularly disastrous run of the Dakar, as six people were killed during the race.
1995 For the first time, the Dakar started from somewhere other the Paris. Riders departed from Granada, Spain for that year’s edition.
2001 Jutta Kleinschmidt made history by becoming the first woman to win the Dakar.
2008 The rally was called off due to terrorist threats against the racers. This would be a year when the Rally faced a do-or-die moment. Many criticized the action made by the committee that year and saw the race in jeopardy. Race organizers moved quickly to relocate the race to South America for the following year.
Bloor, Steven. “Memory Lane: Paris-Dakar Rally – in pictures.” The Guardian, 9 January 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/sport/gallery/2015/jan/09/memory-lane-paris-dakar-rally-in-pictures. Accessed 2 May 2018.
“Dakar 2018 Historic Book.” Dakar.com, 40th ed, http://netstorage.lequipe.fr/ASO/motorSports_dak/DAK-GuideHistorique-UK-PROD%20Interactif.pdf.
Dobbs, Michael. “Death of an Adventurer.” Washington Post, 16 January 1986, www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/1986/01/16/death-of-an-adventurer/5bbfa376-b5aa-4e56-bbd0-dadb759ee266/?utm_term=.75b0e61b99bb. Accessed 2 May 2018.