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What Is the Dakar Rally and Why Should You Follow It?

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Trucks are amongst the vehicle categories that compete at the Dakar Rally.

Trucks are amongst the vehicle categories that compete at the Dakar Rally.

"A challenge for those who go. A dream for those who stay behind."

— Thierry Sabine

What Is the Dakar Rally?

The Dakar Rally is one of the biggest and toughest off-road competitions for vehicles of different categories, including trucks, bikes, quads, and cars. It's often referred to as the absolute pinnacle within the rally raids community, a term used for long-distance off-road rally racing.

The Dakar Rally consists of over two weeks of racing in remote locations where the racers have to find their way through rough terrain that offers a lot of obstacles and unsafe passages. To help, they only have a navigation system (so-called roadbook). The rally is divided into different stages that the drivers need to complete.

History of the Dakar Rally

Back in 1977, one French racing driver named Thierry Sabine got lost during a rally competition in the Libyan desert. While navigating this rough terrain to find the way out of the dangerous desert, this man got an idea—the idea for the adventure of a lifetime. When he returned to France, he started to plan a race that would go all the way from Paris to Dakar, a town in Senegal in northwest Africa.

Sabine's idea took form from just a thought to reality quite quickly, with the premiere of Rally Dakar writing the historic first chapter between the end of 1978 and the beginning of 1979. Of the 182 starters, only 74 racers made it to the final destination, showing how incredibly tough this rally was and still is.

Why Dakar Rally?

It's easy. There are a lot of adrenalin seekers and sportsmen in general that seek challenges to take upon and compete with others for glory. It needs to be said that Dakar Rally is a tremendously difficult challenge, and those who aren't ready for it shouldn't even bother to start the journey.

During Dakar Rally, there have unfortunately been a lot of horrific accidents through the years, with some of these resulting in death. It doesn't matter whether you're a novice or an experienced and professional driver or rider – Dakar Rally can and will surprise you at some point.

Who Can Compete in Dakar Rally?

Anyone who is 18 years or older can qualify for Dakar Rally. First and foremost, the person needs to have an International FIA/FIM Cross-Country Rally license. Secondly, the person must complete at least one FIA or FIM event.

To be able to make a start in Dakar Rally, one also needs to be fit for the rally itself. If the organizers are insecure about whether a competitor can make it safely through the Dakar Rally, they have the right to stop the person from competing.

Dakar is an exciting competition.

Dakar is an exciting competition.

Why the Dakar Rally Had to Leave Africa

2008 was a sad year for the Dakar Rally as the whole competition had to be canceled due to disturbance in the African country Mauritania where the famous rally was meant to be featured. Three soldiers and four French citizens were murdered shortly before the Dakar Rally 2008 edition was about to start.

As a result of these horrific incidents, and because of the terrorist threats directed towards the Dakar Rally organization, the French Ministry for Foreign Affairs decided to warn the organization and advised the cancellation of the whole event.

Because of these tragic events, 2007 was the very last Dakar Rally held on the African continent. In 2009, a whole new continent was the host of the biggest rally competition in the world—South America.

South America Delivered Success

Argentina and Chile were the host countries for the 31st edition of the Dakar Rally and the first-ever edition on the South American continent. 2009 was an excellent year for the Dakar Rally. The worries about the broken tradition were thrown away as the enthusiasm amongst the fans was tremendous in South America, and the popularity of the Dakar Rally significantly grew in the region.

Move to Saudi Arabia

The Dakar Rally would move again, and this time to the east. Since 2020 the Dakar Rally's new home has been the deserts of Saudi Arabia. The upcoming Dakar Rally will run between New Year's Eve at the end of 2022, and the final stage will be held on 15th January 2023, with races taking the checkered flag. The start will be at the Sea Camp near Alula, and the finish in Dammam, one of the biggest cities in Saudi Arabia.

A racing truck making its way through the desert.

A racing truck making its way through the desert.

The Race Format of the Dakar Rally

The Dakar Rally is an endurance rally-raid competition taking place in remote locations where the racers need to navigate the terrain to make it to the finish line. The whole race is several thousand kilometers long but isn't run in one go. The rally is split into different stage: the regular stages and the so-called special stages.

To navigate the dangerous terrain, racers are provided with a roadbook. But forget the top-modern navigation systems we use in our cars when traveling. The roadbook only contains a bunch of symbols and numbers that the racers use to get to the various waypoints that are spread across every stage. This roadbook needs to be studied and understood to perfection, because otherwise the racers will never be able to make it to the finish line of any stage.

The Race Across the Desert Needs Better Coverage

The Dakar Rally is a great rally. But it needs to be said that the event is quite hard to follow. This is not a regular race or rally, so there isn't any live coverage covering the rally itself. Regarding Dakar Rally, you need to get satisfied with some daily highlights from the action.

You can also follow the teams and racers themselves as some of them produce their original content from all that drama and adventure in the desert. With social media's growth, the rally has found new ways to keep its fans updated. With that said, there's still a lot to improve regarding the coverage of the Dakar Rally. Hopefully, the upcoming years can offer a step in the right direction and give us better opportunities to follow this thrilling high-speed adventure on the wheels.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Jan Stepan