The Toughest Auto Race: The Dakar Rally

The Paris to Dakar Rally was known to be the toughest endurance test for vehicle manufacturers as well as off-road racers. The vehicles had to endure extremes in temperature, terrain and drivers had to be physically and mentally tough to be able to finish the gruelling course.

Formerly known as the Paris-Dakar rally, it is an off-road endurance race, called a rally-raid, with over 500 vehicles competing in three distinct classes. Held annually from Paris, France to Dakar, Senegal—the Dakar Rally is open to both amateur and professional entries; but amateur racers typically make up majority of the participants.

There are various stages in the race where vehicles have to traverse off road, crossing sand dunes, mud, camel grass, rocks and erg. Each stage measures from 800 to 900 kilometres.

Three main competitive groups in the race are the bike class—composed of unmodified bikes, modified bikes and quads or atvs; the car class—made up of vehicles weighing less than 3,500kg, with many sub categories; and the truck class—for vehicles weighing more than 3,500 kg. The harsh environment of the race is used as a testing ground by vehicle manufacturers to demonstrate the durability of their products, although most of the racers use modified vehicles.

KTM, Yamaha and BMW have proven most successful in their respective motorcycle/atv race classes, while Volkswagen Race Touareg, Toyota Landcruiser and the Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero were highly successful finishers in the car class.

The truck class, also known as “Camions” or “Lorries” featured a Mercedes-Benz and DAF rivalry in the 1980s, and after 2000 renewed competition started among DAF, Tatra, Mercedes-Benz and Kamaz.

The 2008 Dakar Rally was cancelled due to security concerns after the murder of French tourists on Christmas Eve of 2007. The Dakar Rally had been held uninterrupted since 1979 and a decision to hold the 2009 event in stages in Eastern Europe and South America in January was made by organizer, Amaury Sport Organisation

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