Dakar Rally: A Race That Tests A Man And His Machine
Man is a hungry animal... Hungry for not just food but more… Ambitions, dreams and the hunger to win and conquer. There have always been certain events which captured the imagination of us humans at a greater scale. Motorsport events like Le Mans, Isle Of Man TT, Rally B, the Indy 500 have created a special place for themselves with respect to capturing the fascination and imagination of the participants and the spectators alike. But there’s one motorsport event that is above and beyond all these- Dakar Rally.
The brainchild of a rider who lost his way through the Sahara desert and when he returned, all he wanted was the world to see, witness and feel how he felt during those days when he lost his way. It is helmed as the toughest motorsport event on the whole planet with hundreds of racers coming to conquer but only a few making it to the finish line.
The year was 1977 when a young rider Thierry Sabine lost his way in the Libyan Desert during the Abidjan-Nice Rally. Though Theirry was in a wretched state when he was rescued, he was completely bowled over by the dreamlike landscapes. The promise to himself to share his discovery with the world and to take as many people with him into the immensity of the sand, gave birth to a route originating in Europe. It would then continue to Algiers, crossing into Agadez and finally concluding in Dakar.
In 1978, the dream became a reality – Paris Dakar Rally was born. Its pioneer, Thierry Sabine had one motto: “A challenge for those who go. A Dream for those who stay behind.” On 28 December 1978, the first inaugural Paris Dakar rally took off from the Place du Trocadero. 182 vehicles began their journey from the start line but only 74 survived the 10,000- km trip. Cyril Neveu on his Yamaha motorcycle was the first winner.
Since then, the event has only grown, catching the fascination of people from around the globe. How would you feel if you were told to make a journey of 15,000 km over unknown landscapes? Scared, right? But that’s how long the Dakar rally is. Well, actually some of it’s editions, were.
All the editions had the same beginning (Paris) and same end (Dakar) until 2008. Major security threats in Mauritania forced the organizer to cancel the 2008 edition. Next year in 2009, the event moved across the Atlantic to South America but the name did not change. The race is open to amateur and professionals with amateurs making up nearly 80% of the entries. It is totally an off-road endurance event with the terrain being much tougher than in any conventional rally event.
With the race happening on off-road conditions, it’s obvious the vehicles running are off-road capable too.
We see five categories of vehicles participating in the event- Car, bikes, trucks, quads and UTVs (introduced in 2017).
Dakar rally has seen a number of renowned automobile companies competing. The likes of which are Yamaha, Honda, KTM, BMW, Porche, Husqvarna, Toyota, Mini, Land Rover, Citroen, Peugeot, Kamaz, Man, Iveco, Mercedes-Benz, Renault and Tatra to name a few.
After all these years, participants coming back each year to conquer Dakar, we never saw an Indian competing in it until in 2015. CS Santosh was the first Indian to participate in the world’s toughest rally riding as a privateer on a KTM 450 Rally bike. Despite the rally being his first and already watching his fellow competitors falling short on their tracks, Santosh became the first Indian to finish the Dakar rally at an impressive 36th position.
After Santosh’s spectacular performance, soon Indian manufacturers started showing interest in Dakar. This lead to TVS and Hero becoming the first two Indian companies to participate in the Dakar Rally. Soon, Santosh wasn’t the only Indian competing in Dakar as Arvind KP became the second rider to do so.
2019, 41st edition of Dakar Rally recently ended with Nasser Al-Attiyah winning in the cars category, Toby Price taking the first prize in bikes and Eduard Nikolaev going home with the winner’s cap in the truck category.
Dakar Rally is one hell of a race, testing both the man and the machine to their extreme limits. And only the toughest combination gets to see the finish line.