The Dakar Race was inspired by Frenchman Thierry Sabine who became lost in the Libyan desert during the Abidjan- Nice rally in 1978, after the experience he wanted to put together a race where everyone could experience the desert. The rally used to start in the shadows of the Eiffel Tower. Sabine became one of the races casualties in January 1986 when he lost his life in a helicopter crash that killed 4 other passengers in Mali, fittingly his ashes were spread across the desert.
Stephane Peterhansel is the undoubted King of the Desert (Sand King) with 3 wins in his Mitsubishi car and an incredibly impressive 6 further victories on his Yamaha bike. Other notable competitors are Yoshimasa Sugawara who has competed in 28 consecutive races since 1969 (several were in the Abidjan – Nice Rally, the precursor to Dakar) and Jutta Kleinschmidt became the first female stage (1998) and overall race winner (2001). Unfortunately the race had to move to South America in 2009 after 4 French tourists were killed in 2008 in Mauritania and there were further terrorist threats against the race.
Over 400 cars, trucks, motorcycles and quad bikes start the 8,000km long, toughest of all motor races but not everyone finishes due to the incredibly tough terrain that needs to be negotiated and there are occasionally some pretty bad accidents along the way. However, this hasn’t stopped the race being warmly embraced by the South Americans and almost the entire first stage of 300km in Argentina was lined with spectators.
The 2013 version of the rally will start in Lima, Peru on January 5th 2013 for the first time with the route winding it’s way through the spectacular landscapes of Nazca and Arequipa in Peru before heading to Arica and Calama in Chile followed by a detour through Salta, Cordoba, La Rioja and Calama in Argentina before coming back to Chile for the final stages of the race through Copiapo, La Serena and finally Santiago on January 20th.
Here are some highlights from last years race to give you an idea of the terrain the drivers must face, one of who humorously described it as, and I’m paraphrasing here, Nature’s way of telling us we shouldn’t be here!
The event will be a boon to the countries involved in economic terms with the 2012 event estimated to have been worth over $500m to the Peruvian economy, the principle beneficiaries being the hotel & restaurant industries and there are expected to be as many as 15,000 in “The White City” of Arequipa alone! Shown in 190 countries and with a worldwide audience in the billions this is a great opportunity for South America to once again showcase its natural beauty along with the charm and friendliness of the people that make it such an exciting place to visit.