What does one do when one gets lost in the spine-chilling expanse of the Sahara Desert? One discovers an idea for a thrilling, taxing, and the toughest race on the planet. That’s what Thierry Sabine did when he got lost in the Tenere Desert (part of the Sahara) while competing in the Nice-Abidjand car rally deciding that the desert will be a nice place to have regular car rallies. Hence was born the Dakar Rally, an off-the road rally of its kind considered to be the toughest among all car rally raids in the world. The Dakar Rally or the Dakar as it is famously known is thrill-a-minute adventure activity of its kind which allows participants to travel the most dangerous of terrains, face the harshest of circumstances and even brave death to reach the finish line and be crowned the champion. The event has been a great success since the inaugural race in 1978.
The rally, as mentioned above, was the idea of Thierry Sabine who was a French rally car driver participating in many off-road rally raids. In 1978 he started the first ever Dakar Rally which was to be almost 10,000 kilometers long from the French capital of Paris till the Senegalese capital of Dakar traversing through some of the toughest and uncontrollable terrains in the world. The first race kicked off on December the very same year and saw some 182 vehicles taking part with just 74 been able to cross the line at Dakar. Cyril Neveu became the first winner of the competition by riding through the 10,000 km on his Yamaha motorcycle. The event became an instant success with many professional and amateur racers coming from all parts of the world to participate in the race, the third edition saw 216 vehicles compete for the honors with the numbers rising to 291in the very next edition of the race in 1981. The Thierry Sabine years were great for the competition as it grew in repute and class, automobile powerhouses such as BMW, Porsche and Mitsubishi became a regular entrant in the event. In 1986, Thierry Sabine died in a helicopter crash during the event and his father to over the reins of organizing the rally from thereon.
The post Thierry Sabine era saw the rally gain a worldwide audience and touch the hearts of millions of adventure junkies and daredevils across the planet. The 1988 event saw the number of participants reach an all time high of 603, this era also saw the car category being dominated by official factory participations. Peugeot and its sister company Citroen dominated the car category with wins almost every alternate year with their world-class driver Ari Vatanen, in 1991 also marked the start of domination by biker Stephane Peterhansel in the bikers category. The 1990s saw the popularity of the event slump a little with lesser participants and also various changes in the route of the rally such as the exclusive Africa route in 1997, the Paris-Dakar-Paris route of 1994 before the last race being held on the traditional Paris-Dakar route in 2001 a year which also had the event’s first female winner Jutta Kleinschmidt.
After a rocking first decade of the twenty-first century, the Dakar Rally of 2008 got cancelled due to bomb threats at the starting venue of Lisbon which saw the vent move to the South American countries of Chile, Argentina and Bolivia. Since 2009, the event is been organized in the Andes Mountians and the challenges for the participants has only gotten harder with the change of course. The Dakar has four categories under which participants can participate these are bikes, quad bikes, cars and trucks with vehicles in each category built with great modifications to survive the grueling race. The Motorbike category has two classes the Non-elite and the elite, the non-elite class has two further sub-divisions namely super production and marathon. The participants in the marathon class aren’t allowed to replace their engines, frame, forks or swinging arms whereas participants in both super production and elite are allowed to do so. The maximum capacity of the engine is 400cc with single or twin cylinders.
Quad category officially became a category in 2009 and has two further subdivisions namely two-wheeler quads with a single cylindrical engine with 720cc capacity and the other division is four-wheeler quads with engine capacity of 900cc. Yamaha has been the undisputed champion in this category since its inception. The third category is the Cars class and is arguably the most competitive of the four. The cars class too has sub-division with three main divisions’ namely improved cross-country vehicles, Cross-country series production vehicles and light vehicles. The first two are further sub-divided according to engine-type and drive-type. Famous factory companies such as Porsche, BMW, Peugeot, Mitsubishi and Citroen have been part of this category. The final category sees the participation of vehicles weighing more than 3500 kg with two divisions namely, series production trucks and modifies trucks. The Dakar rally is a test of endurance, of perseverance and of character which brings insurmountable odds in front of its participants needless to say the vent has had its share of bad incidents with many deaths, injuries and crashes but through it all The Dakar has survived to be the toughest and coolest race on the planet.