An Enduring Challenge
The adventure began back in 1977, when Thierry Sabine got lost on his motorbike in the Libyan desert during the Abidjan-Nice Rally. Saved from the sands in extremis, he returned to France still in thrall to this landscape and promising himself he would share his fascination with as many people as possible. He proceeded to come up with a route starting in Europe, continuing to Algiers and crossing Agadez before eventually finishing at Dakar. The founder coined a motto for his inspiration: “A challenge for those who go. A dream for those who stay behind.” Courtesy of his great conviction and that modicum of madness peculiar to all great ideas, the plan quickly became a reality. Since then, the Paris-Dakar, a unique event sparked by the spirit of adventure, open to all riders and carrying a message of friendship between all men, has never failed to challenge, surprise and excite. Over the course of almost thirty years, it has generated innumerable sporting and human stories.
The 2016 Dakar course was completed by 218 vehicles (84 bikes, 23 quads, 67 cars and 44 trucks) from 347 starters in Buenos Aires. This edition finished at Rosario with the victory in the car category going to Stéphane Peterhansel, who won behind the wheel of the Peugeot 20008 DKR, making it 12 in all for the rally-raid legend, with six titles on four wheels to go with the six on two. Nasser Al Attiyah in his Mini and Giniel De Villiers in a Toyota Hilux rounded out the podium. The bike race was won for the first time by an Australian rider, Toby Price, who rode an error-free rally in just his second Dakar appearance. There was a change of generation in the category, with five newcomers in the overall Top 10. On the other hand, it was the revenants who took the honours in the quad category as the Patronelli brothers dominated with Marcos leading the way. Gerard De Rooy won the Dakar truck category for the second time, after his triumph in 2012.
216 vehicles made it to the finish line (79 bikes, 18 quads, 68 cars, 51 trucks) from 406 at the start. Marc Coma relied on experience to take his 5th Dakar win. Joan Barreda was his biggest challenger…just until he made some crucial errors on the Bolivian stages. He was then replaced by team mate Paulo Goncalves, who kept the pressure on all the way to the end. Australian Toby Price was the revelation of the rally. The 27-year old rider finished 3rd in his first outing, while Laia Sanz completed the Dakar in 9th place overall! In the car category, Nasser Al-Attiyah took command of the rally on day two and never looked back; taking five stage wins on his the way to his 2nd crown. The amazingly consistent Giniel de Villiers, who was the only one capable of posing a threat to the n°301 Mini, finished 35 minutes adrift of the Qatari. Peugeot struggled on its rally-raid return. The lack of preparation of the 2008 DKRs could be seen in the results: Sainz (retirement), Peterhansel (11th) and Despres (34th). In the quad category, Rafal Sonik finally triumphed in his sixth attempt to take the top honours. Kamaz swept the truck podium, led by 28-year old Airat Mardeev ahead of Eduard Nikolaev and Andrei Karginov.
France’s Cyril Despres and Stéphane Peterhansel took their fourth and tenth Dakars respectively, all categories included. The champions were applauded on the podium on Lima’s Plaza de Armas by a huge crowd which came to acclaim both the competitors and the arrival of the greatest rally raid in the world to Lima’s capital. All in all, 97 motorcycles, 12 quads, 78 cars and 60 trucks made it to the finishing line of the 33rd Dakar, i.e., 249 of the 443 vehicles which started the rally in Mar del Plata.
The third edition of the Dakar in South America featured a new route through Argentina and Chile, but the route also came very close to the Bolivian and Peruvian borders. The rally took a break for a rest day in the town of Arica in the extreme north of Chile. Marco Coma won his third Dakar to equal the number of wins of rival Cyril Despres. Nassser Al-Attiyah led a Volkswagen sweep of the podium in the car category and said goodbye to the Dakar after taking its third consecutive triumph. Vladimir Chagin brought his career as a driver to and end in style, in taking his seventh win, the truck category record and increased his record of stage wins to 63.
2010 – consecration for Sainz
For the second South American edition of the Dakar, 88 bikes, 14 quads, 57 cars and 28 trucks managed to return to Buenos Aires after a 9,000-km journey. Cyril Despres picked up a third title in the bike race, whilst Argentinean Marcos Patronelli was victorious in the quad category. In the car race, Carlos Sainz triumphed at the end of a ferocious and uncompromising struggle with Nasser Al Attiyah. At the finishing line, the two drivers were separated by the smallest gap in the history of the rally: 2’12’’. The race was much more relaxed for Vladimir Chagin, who could not stop collecting records as the event went on: he is now tied with Karel Loprais on six titles in the truck category and pushed his total of stage victories up to 56!
2009 – Celebrated like heroes
The 31st edition of the Dakar, the first one in Latin-America, is now over and has seen the victories of Marc Coma in the bike category, Josef Machacek in the quad category, Giniel De Villiers in the car category and Firdaus Kabirov in the truck category. In total, 113 bikers, 13 quad riders, 91 car teams and 54 truck teams finished the rally-raid, that was notably marked by the exceptional enthusiasm the Dakar generated amongst the crowds in Argentina and in Chile.
2008 – Security as a priority
After the murder of four French citizens and three Mauritanian soldiers in the previous days before the start and answering the strong recommendation of the French Ministry for Foreign affairs not to go to Mauritania, the 2008 edition of the rally was cancelled. Terrorist acts identified by the French authorities threatened the rally directly. On the eve of the start, Etienne Lavigne was forced to announce the cancellation of the 2008 edition. The competitors gathered in Lisbon for scrutineering had to deal with the shock and saluted the responsible decision of the organisers. Three weeks later (Friday the 1st of February) a terror attack in the heart of Nouakchott confirmed the judiciousness of applying the precaution principle.
2007 : Peterhansel makes it 9
231 bikers, 14 quads,181 teams in cars and 85 trucks lined up at the start in Lisbon. At the finish, the all-terrain action hero Stéphane Peterhansel took his total number of Dakar victories to nine. After six wins on a bike, he proceeded to show similar dominance on four wheels, outdoing not only his team-mate Luc Alphand but also his Volkswagen rivals, Carlos Sainz and Giniel De Villiers.
2005 : A blue bike at the summit
The motorcyclist Cyril Despres dedicated his victory to Richard Sainct, who had died a few weeks earlier during the Pharaohs Rally, and to Fabrizio Meoni. His two team-mates at KTM paid for their passion for the desert with their lives, as did Juan-Manuel Perez, the victim of a fatal fall.
2001 : Kleinschmidt, “Miss Dakar”
Jutta Kleinschmidt, first seen in the Dakar thirteen years earlier on a bike, had already become the first female stage winner in 1998 in a Schlesser buggy. This year, she became the first woman to win the overall event, this time at the wheel of a Mitsubishi.
2000 : A blue buggy in Cairo
To mark the new millennium, the Dakar opted for a route with an eternal flavour: the finish was at the foot of the Gizeh Pyramids, where the pharaohs of Ancient Egypt lie. Jean-Louis Schlesser, who remains the only person to win the Dakar on a buggy, retained his title, as did Richard Sainct in the bike category.
1995 : Viva Espana
For the first time, the start did not take place in France, but at Grenada in Spain. Hubert Auriol became the boss of the Dakar on the ground, where he witnessed another fine performance from Stéphane Peterhansel in recording a third successive victory.
1992 : From North to South
For this special edition, a crossing of the African continent, from the north to the southernmost tip, was the task facing the competitors. The Paris – Cape rally comprised 22 stages and passed through 10 countries on a route stretching 12,427 km! Hubert Auriol won with navigator Philippe Monnet to become the first driver to claim victory in both the bike and car categories.
1991 : Act One of the “Peter Show”
A young motorcyclist sporting a blue bandana, first seen on the rally three years earlier, rode his Yamaha to victory: the Stéphane Peterhansel era had begun. On four wheels, meanwhile, the Finn Ari Vatanen clocked up his fourth title in the category, a record that still stands today.
1988 : Peugeot prevails again
Over 600 vehicles started out from Versailles. Peugeot, which had made a successful debut the previous year, set out to defend its title. But Ari Vatanen, having led the rally at Bamako, was at the centre of a shock when his 405 Turbo 16 was stolen and then found too late to continue. The lion brand triumphed nevertheless, courtesy of his compatriot Juha Kankunnen.
1986 : The black year
Thierry Sabine, French singer Daniel Balavoine, journalist Nathaly Odent, pilot François Xavier-Bagnoud and radio technician Jean-Paul Le Fur all met their deaths in a helicopter accident. Thierry Sabine’s ashes were scattered in the desert and his father Gilbert, aided by Patrick Verdoy, took over the helm. The race went on but no one’s heart was really in it.
1983 : Welcome to the Tenere
The first visit to the Tenere desert was as astounding as it was terrifying. The competitors found themselves plunged into an interminable sandstorm which caused no less than 40 drivers to lose their bearings. Those who strayed furthest had to spend as much as four days getting back on course. The legend of the Dakar was underway.
1981 : Ordinary adventurers
The Paris-Dakar rapidly won over the public, fascinated by these ordinary adventurers defying the desert with limited resources. Yamahas and Hondas “cobbled together at the back of the garage” rubbed shoulders with Thierry de Montcorgé’s Rolls-Royce and the Citroen CX of the F1 driver Jacky Ickx, accompanied by Claude Brasseur. Hubert Auriol, already nicknamed “the African”, won his first Dakar.
1979 : All together at the Trocadero
Thierry Sabine’s gamble took shape on 26 December 1978, as 182 vehicles turned up in the Place du Trocadéro for a 10,000-kilometre journey into the unknown, destination Dakar. The encounter between two worlds sought by the event’s founder unfolded on the African continent. Among the 74 trail-blazers who made it to the Senegalese capital, Cyril Neveu, at the handlebars of a Yamaha 500 XT, wrote the opening entry on the honours list of the greatest rally in the world.