Unusual Events

Published on January 3rd, 2013 | by Chris Wotton


The Paris-Dakar – the world’s most restless rally?

For a rally with a difference, check out the Dakar Rally, previously known simply as the Paris-Dakar. But don’t be fooled into thinking that this is a race that takes place in Africa – not any longer, anyway. While the original route was from the French capital across to Dakar in Senegal since the launch of the contest at the end of the 1970s, due to more recent security concerns in Senegal’s West African neighbouring country Mauritania the competition switched continents in 2009 and now takes place in South America.

There sure are worse places for a race... Photo by team__b

There sure are worse places for a race… Photo by team__b

The race attracts both amateurs and professional participants to have a shot at making the trek – but be in no doubt, attempting this race is no mean feat but instead 100% hardcore. Truly off-road vehicles are used by the more than three hundred and fifty drivers who take part each year, from across Europe, Asia and Africa.

This car gets on the road in the 2005 race to Barcelona. Photo by cdamian

This car gets on the road in the 2005 race to Barcelona. Photo by cdamian

The race’s origins are a little incredulous. As legend goes, racer Thierry Labine got lost in the desert (as you do) and decided there were few better places on earth for a car rally. Things got a little complicated in making the journey from Paris, since there happens to be quite a lot of wet, blue stuff in between, but it proved to be nothing that a sea transfer couldn’t fix. Nowadays with its base in South America, the terminus for the race has in the last few years switched been Buenos Aires, Lima and Santiago.

This guy doesn't look like he's having the best of times. Photo by Omer Simkha

This guy doesn’t look like he’s having the best of times. Photo by Omer Simkha

Before the move from Africa, it ended in Dakar on all but four occasions, when it also took in Cape Town, Sharm el-Sheikh and Cairo. At other times it headed to Algiers, Tripoli, Tunis and Agadez, and left from Lisbon, Granada, Madrid, Marseille, Barcelona and Clermont-Ferrand. In fact, it might just be the world’s most well travelled rally, given it feels like it has spent almost as much time taking alternative routes as it has the original, name-lending one from Paris to Dakar! To take the biscuit, in 1994 it even went back on itself, not giving up the challenge in Dakar but making the return journey all the way back to Paris – even if the Parisian mayor forced it to move from the Champs-Elysées to, of all places, Disneyland. In keeping with the recent move to be a land-only race covering just South America, in 2013 it will depart from Lima and head through Argentinian Tucumán en route to its end point in Santiago.

It can get dusty out there. Photo by -basti-

It can get dusty out there. Photo by -basti-

Not everyone likes the Paris-Dakar rally, and it came up for plenty of flak during its time in Africa. Environmentalists speak out against the destruction caused by the race to local ecosystems, including the stunting of growth of plants growing in the sandy regions the cars pass through, and the desertification of the land more generally. There is also criticism of the carbon emissions from the race, which are estimated at roughly the same level as those released during a Formula One race. The race was the cause of political turmoil when it passed through disputed territory in the Western Sahara, and locals reported seeing little economic benefit from those passing through. We reckon Margaret Thatcher isn’t much of a fan, either – her son and his driving partner disappeared for six days when they went thirty miles off course during the race in 1982.

About the Author

Chris Wotton

A twenty-something crazy about travel, Chris Wotton is a writer with a specialism in Thailand and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Chris is happiest off the tourist trail, submerged in local culture - and eating local food!

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