As the new year rolls in and people head back into the office with a renewed will to stick to their resolutions, a handful of people has other, very real concerns. In fact, over 500 riders and drivers from around the world are instead making their way to Lima, Peru, where the world’s most grueling desert raid will open this weekend, on January 6. The Dakar 2019 is just around the corner and here’s everything you need to know.
For the first time in its history, the race that will officially kickstart on January 7 will be confined within the borders of a single country. In the past, the thousands-of-miles rally spread out initially from Europe to Africa and more recently, through South America. A number of countries have generally been involved in the event, however, this year, only Peru will host to the race.
The 3,100-mile route will take the competitors through the Pacaras desert, south of the country, creating a 10-stage loop between Lima and Tacna, including a stop in Arequipa where the racers will get a rest day at mid-point. Each stage will cover between 200 and 500 miles.
While of course, you usually hear us talk about the teams of riders entered in the motorcycle class, there are in fact 5 classes of vehicles entered in the Dakar. Other vehicles include quads, side-by-side (S x S), cars, and trucks.
All the vehicles have been specially prepared by approved shops to face the rally and have been fitted with all-terrain tires, long-travel suspensions, modified fairings and bodies, roll cages, and such. Motorcycles are also fitted with a navigation tower that replaces the usual gauge cluster. The digital or mechanical module displays the Tulip diagrams and distances (either on a screen or on paper) that allow the competitors to navigate in the middle of the desert without markers.
This year, over 500 riders and drivers will take the start in Lima on Monday, January 7, close to 150 of which will be on bikes. While for the longest time, most racers were of European origin, with the rally now taking place in South America, there’s an increasing number of local competitors and an impressive number of rookies who will get their Dakar christening this weekend.
Riders will straddle such motorcycles as Yamaha 450WRC, Yamaha WR450F, KTM 450 Rally, KTM 450 EXC-F, KTM RR450, Hero 450 Rally, Sherco TVS 450 Rally, and BetaRR430.
The cost of an entry in the rally is in the tens of thousands of dollars (for subscription only); that’s without the cost of the prepared motorcycle (or vehicle), spare parts, travel, accommodations, support crew, etc. This is where sponsors come in handy—some companies like KTM even have their own factory team sporting their livery.
This year will mark the Dakar’s 41st edition. It was organized for the first time in 1978 after founder Thierry Sabine got lost in the Lybian desert during the Abidjan-Nice rally, the previous year. His adventure in the desert left a strong impression on him and prompted him to want to go back and bring as many people as possible with him. He designed a route through the desert that connected Paris, France to Dakar, Senegal. Thus was born the Paris-Dakar.
On December 26, 1978, 170 competitors left Paris on the 6,000-mile raid. The event became a global success and for over 40 years now, it has become the staple of desert raids. The rally has run every year since, except for the 2008 event—the rally was canceled altogether following the murder of French tourists in Mauritania where stages of the race were to be held. Increasing tensions in Africa are what lead the organizers to move the event to South America in 2009.
From Paris-Dakar to only Dakar
In the mid-1990s, organizers started getting creative with the rally and with the routes. Instead of consistently leaving from Paris, starting points started moving around and included Granada in Spain, Clermont-Ferrand in France and even Dakar for a Dakar-to-Dakar loop. The event started being referred to as only “The Dakar”, dropping the original Paris from its branding.
The name Dakar has since remained the event’s official nameplate, despite the race moving to South America.