Paris to Dakar Rally

The Paris to Dakar rally has long been regarded as one of the toughest rally events in the world. Taking place over the course of 17 or 18 days (for many competitors, it takes much longer), the rally usually begins in Paris, France (or close to it), and ends in the capital of Senegal, Dakar. These start and end locations are subject to change, depending on the course chosen each year.

Rally History

In 1977, a Frenchman by the name of Thierry Sabine was participating in the Abidjan to Nice rally. As the race passed through the desert country of Libya, Thierry gets completely lost. After finding his way back to France (i can only imagine with help from a support crew) he dreams of a rally that would send everyone into the sandy desert. The next year, 1978, the Paris to Dakar rally is born. Beginning on December 28th, 170 competitors accepted the challenge of the rally that would see them passing through the desert nations of Algeria, Niger, Mali, Haute-Volta (now known as Burkina Faso) and Senegal.

1981: Just 2 years after the rally started, massive crowds flock to the African nations partaking in the rally. Many more vehicle types are also present on the starting line.

1982: The number of entrants is up to 327.

1983: The course takes competitors over the Ténéré desert in Niger for the first time. However, disaster strikes. A huge sandstorm erupts as competitors pass through it. Visibility is dropped to 0. 40 competitors spend up to 4 days lost in the desert before being rescued.

1984: 427 entrants sign up to compete for the rally crown as the course is changed, now passing through Guinea, Sierra Leone and Mauritania. The saying of the rally since the beginning has always been "A challenge for those who go. A dream for those who stay behind". This year, Thierry made the dream even bigger for those who didn't participate.

1985: The start is moved to Versailles, slightly southwest of Paris.

1986: A year of tragedy. Thierry Sabine, along with 4 others, die after an unfortunate helicopter accident. Thierry's father, Gilbert Sabine, takes over the running of the rally, along with Patrick Verdoy. Thierry's ashes are spread among the deserts he loved.

1987: Having so far been dominated by the likes of Porsche, BMW and Yamaha, Peugeot enter a team, tasting success in their first attempt in the car category.

1988: On the 10th anniversary of the rally, the number of entrants tops 600 for the first time. However, this number is soured by the death of Van Loevezijn, a navigator for the DAF team. The team immediately withdraws from the race. As well as this death, more than 100 competitors quit the race early on in the first stage in El Oued (in Algeria). Further into the race, the leader, Ari Vatanen, has his car stolen and can no longer compete. by the races end, 3 participants had died, 3 bystanders - 2 of them children - had been killed and 2 participants ended up paralyzed. Not the ideal way to celebrate its anniversary, but furthermore proving how tough the rally is.

1989: Ari Vatanen takes his revenge by winning this years rally. The rally also passes through Libya for the first time.

1990: The start is moved to Paris-La-Défense and the number of entrants has dropped to 465. Some motorbike riders feel fear as they go through some of the Libyan deserts alone and at night, surrounded by nothing but the sound of their bikes.

1991: Ari Vatanen switches teams from Peugeot to Citroën and gives his new team a win. The win is soured somewhat by the death of Charles Cabanne, the driver of one of Citroën's assistant trucks.

1992: The start is again moved, this time to Château de Vincennes, on the edge of Paris. The end is also moved for the first time, away from Dakar to the city of Cape Town in South Africa, giving this years rally the name of Paris - Le Cap rally ('Le Cap' is french for 'The Cape' (thanks for the heads up on the country Linca and StrawberryFrog)). However, the elements play a very large roll in determining the outcome of this years rally. Blinding sand storms through the deserts. A river that was to be crossed in Namibia was flooded and overflowing at the time. The route took competitors through Tchad (or Chad) which unfortunately, had erupted in an internal war at the time. This years rally was also the debut of GPS systems in vehicles, a gadget that would soon become heavily relied on.

1993: The original course is restored, with the start this time being in Trocadéro. The El Goléa dunes prove to be just as difficult as the El Oued dunes (both being in Algeria). A third of the entrants get no further than the dunes. Participants drop to a very low (yet unstated by the official site) level.

1994: The number of entrants start to rise again and Gilbert Sabine and his group of organisers turn the running of the race over to the Amaury Sport Organisation group. The new rally boss draws up the route and the rally becomes the Paris to Dakar to Paris rally. Yet again entrants get stuck in sand dunes, this time on the 70km Erg stage. The race organisers end up making the following special stage neutral (not required to be completed). By this stage the Mitsubishi team, one of the few to try and finish the Erg stage, have no choice but to continue. It takes them 36 hours to finish the stage. The team didn't continue on with the rally. Citroën claim another rally crown.

1995: The start is moved far south to Grenada in Spain. Hubert Auriol, a repeated winner of the rally, is made the ground boss of the rally.

1996: Entrants rise again, while the course stays the same as the year before. Soured by the disappearance of Laurent Geugeun, an assistance truck driver.

1997: For the first time the rally begins and ends in Dakar. Also for the first time, a female wins a Paris to Dakar rally stage. She ultimately places 5th in the car category.

1998: The rally celebrates its 20th anniversary. The rally's start is moved to Versailles and ventures through Spain before it continues its journey through Africa before they reach Dakar.

1999: The start is again moved to Grenada and passes through Morocco for its first time. During the last stage in Morocco, Jutta Kleinschmidt is the first female to ever hold the overall rally lead, however, she doesn't walk away with a rally win by the time the competitors reach Dakar.

2000: For the first time, the rally begins and ends in Africa, starting in Dakar and ending in Cairo (also the first time Egypt has been in the rally route). This year, organisers and competitors had to be wary of terrorist threats from Islamic extremists. By the time the rally reached midway through Niger, organisers decided it was getting too dangerous for the entrants and organised to airlift each team to Libya, where the rally continued without trouble (apart from often suffered injuries) to the end in Cairo.

2001: A return to the classic route sees the rally begin once again in France and end in Senegal. The organisers return to the core values of the rally to once again make it one of the toughest rallies on earth. Assistance by aircraft was greatly reduced, requiring teams to have assistance vehicles. Jutta Kleinschmidt rises above the rest to become the first woman to win the rally.

This years rally begins in Paris and goes through Spain, Tunisia and Libya, before reaching its end in Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt. Due to recent world events and feelings towards the west. This years rally, along with last years, couple have been kept to mainly western friendly nations, to avoid trouble. Which also explains why the rally will not be finishing in Dakar.

Vehicle Groups and Classes

There are 4 main groups of vehicles, all of which have separate regulations. Each group has sub groups and classes. The main groups are Bikes, Cars, Trucks and Assistance.

  • Bikes:
    • Group 1: Production
    • Group 2: Super Production
    • Group 3: Experimental
    • All bikes must have a fuel range of 350 - 380km. 5 litres of water must be carried by each rider, 3 of which must be attached to the bike. Only 180 bikes will be allowed to enter the rally
  • Cars
    • Group 1: Production Cross-Country Cars
    • Group 2: Super Production Cross-Country Cars
  • Trucks
    • Production Trucks 1: 4x4 Trucks with engine over the front axle.
    • Production Trucks 2: 6 to 8 wheeled trucks with engine over the front axle.
    • Production Trucks 3: other 6 to 8 wheel trucks with engine over the front axle and which either have an invalid F.I.A. homologation or are manufactured individually.

Rally Costs

Due to the harsh nature of the rally, the costs aren't cheap. There is a 10,000 Euro entrance fee for each vehicle that wants to compete. Also if support vehicles are wanted, they are an extra 8,000 Euro each. A deposit of 2000 Euro must be paid as a guarantee, to be refunded a few months after the rally has been completed (these costs are for the upcoming rally, beginning January 1, 2003).

Other expenses include:

  • GPS: 500 Euro for cars and trucks and 375 for bikes. A 800 Euro guarantee must be paid, to be refunded on return of the equipment at the end of the rally.
  • Distress Beacon: Hire cost of 300 Euro. Deposit of 1220 Euro must be paid as a guarantee of return after the rally.
  • Fuel: For bikes, fuel will be provided at each special stage and each bivouac on African stages at a cost of 1220 Euro. For cars, fuel will be provided where no local fuel stations are on the route. These costs depend on the type of fuel.
  • Visas: These depend on your nationality and how much the cost is in your home country. Visas are required for each of the 5 countries passed through.
  • Boat crossing from Spain to Tunisia: Bikes: 200 Euro, Cars: 1000 or 1300 Euro depending on car length, Trucks: from 2150 to 4400 Euro depending on length.

All wage costs for technical staff are paid by sponsors.

So with those costs, entrants are looking at a cost of 19,800 Euros, plus Visas and fuel for cars with 1 assistance truck. Add fuel and visas and you may well be looking at 25,000 to 30,000 Euros. For bikes with 1 assistance truck the cost is around 19,000 plus visas.

While this is a lot of money, apart from the experience of a lifetime, there is also substantial prize money on offer.

  • First year Bike Riders: Prize money for the highest ranked amateur bike rider is set at 15 500 Euros. This is in addition to other prize money for other classifications.
  • First year Car Drivers: Total of 76,000 Euros, to be rewarded in the form of daily bonuses to the group winners as well as at the end of competition.
  • A reserve amount of 77,000 Euros is for any amateurs that manage to arrive in Dakar (or whatever the finishing city is).

Prize money for the professional classes either hasn't been worked out, or has yet to be uploaded.

As can be seen, the rally has a rich history and continues to prove itself as one of the toughest races on offer to both amateurs and professionals alike. Those that undertake the challenge are very brave, but in return have the adventure of a lifetime. For those that watch, we get to see pictures of landscapes that many of us wont get to see in person.

Sources:
http://www.dakar.com/2003/presentationus/index.html
http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/features/siadventure/11/off_road/

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