Under the radar of many, from the 6th to the 17th of January, more than 500 participants from 61 countries endured the 41st edition of the largest rally in the world, the Dakar (formerly the Paris-Dakar Rally).
Despite being named after the capital of Senegal, the Dakar has taken place in South America since 2009 after terrorist threats in Mauritania lead to the cancelation on the 2008 edition of the rally which would have gone from Lisbon, Portugal to Dakar, Senegal. Now, for the 11th successive year, the event was held in South America; however this year’s event was held exclusively in Peru after Chile, Bolivia and Argentina declined the role as host countries.
The ten stages of this year’s event, including a single rest day, took place over the course of 11 days, covering a total of 5,000 kilometres and with 180 of the 334 race vehicles making it to the end of the rally. A truly James Bond-like experience, this year’s rally was kitted out with race teams costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, not to mention incredible purpose built off-road race cars, quads, bikes and trucks, parties in the desert as well as racers and spectators from across the globe.
Attending the Dakar has been a long time bucket list item
January 17th saw the closing ceremony conclude the event, and was open to the general public at no cost. Held along the “Costa Verde” coastline, it proved an ironic name considering that “Costa Verde” translates to Green Coast; the reality is a total dust bowl along a rocky and arid oceanfront. Nonetheless, despite the 28°C weather and 90% humidity, the booths showcasing different vehicle manufacturers, and a motorcycle jump show made it well worth the mild heat stroke. As luck would have it, the award ceremony was held in the evening, and included a wide variety of food trucks as well as a local brewery with ice cold beer on tap.
However, talks with African countries have now got underway, with the intention of bringing the Dakar back to Africa for the 2020 event, after difficulties in securing a multi-national and satisfactory route for the 2019 edition. The talks for the 2020 Dakar have encompassed the African nations of Algeria, Angola and Namibia; it would be a fair assessment to say that cementing the 2020 Dakar in these countries would be quite an achievement. The last time the Dakar passed through Algeria was in 1993, and a year even further back for Angola and Namibia.
Whether the Dakar returns to Africa or remains in South America, the one thing that is certain is that it will be a truly epic continuation to the forty-plus years of history of the the Paris-Dakar Rally. Regardless of what the future holds for the event, the 2019 edition had me in total awe. Attending the Dakar has been a long time bucket list item, and to finally be in the midst of it and all of its madness was a truly surreal experience. And, however much I enjoyed it, beneath the surface ran a sad undercurrent that countered all the emotion. Compared to all the prior events, this one was by far the least exciting. It was a single country event with most of the challenges being limited just to sandy terrain which, despite its many difficulties, is not as varied or exciting as the African rallies of the past. Who knows what road is laid out for the Dakar in years to come, but I certainly hope I am in the front row to see for myself.