Wed, January 14, 2009
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Dakar Rally: An enduring challenge

2009-01-14 08:24:44 GMT2009-01-14 16:24:44 (Beijing Time)

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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, Étienne 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.

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