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Dakar Rally - The ulimate rally race?

Dakar Rally - The ulimate rally race?

Just like horse racing has the Kentucky Derby and soccer has The World Cup, the Dakar Rally is the premier event for long distance offroading. Anyone wanting to test their rock-crawling chops will make their way to this event, and it's the perfect place for man and vehicle to show what they're made of. Not for the faint of heart or the flimsy of car - this is the ultimate test of your offroad and extreme driving skills!

"First I need to fight against the desert. Then we fight against each other. But - the desert is stronger."
-Cyril Despres

The History of the Dakar Rally

The race originated in 1978, and its creation is a fascinating story.

French racer Thierry Sabine found himself lost in the deserts of Northwest Africa midway through the 1977 Abidjan-Nice Race. As he drove around the desert trying to reorient himself and get back on track, he found himself marveling at the extreme terrain of the Tenere Desert.

He decided that this would be a prime location for an off-road race, the perfect place for amateur and professional racers to prove that they had what it takes to be an extreme off-roader. He organized the event, and the first Dakar Rally was held in 1979.


The first race was between Paris, France, and Dakar, Senegal. The race was interrupted by a Mediterranean crossing midway through, and the second half was the toughest part of the incredibly challenging race. The Tenere Desert is a flat basin that covers roughly 400,000 square kilometers, bordered by the Air Mountains to the west, the Djado Plateau to the northeast, the Lake Chad basin to the south, the Hoggar Mountains to the north, and the Tibesti Mountains to the east.

Before 2008, most of the races were run between Paris and Dakar, hence the name of the race. However, terrorist threats in Africa caused the 2009 Dakar Rally to be held in South America, where it has been held ever since. The 2013 race was held between January 5th and 19th, and was run between Lima, Peru, and Santiago, Chile.

The Great Race Itself

The name of the Dakar Rally is a misnomer, as it's an endurance race or rally raid instead of the classic rally. The terrain over which the vehicles drive is incredibly tough, and only off-road vehicles are permitted -- in contrast to the modified on-road vehicles that are used during a conventional rally.

The special sections tend to be off-road, sand dunes, erg (wind blown areas of flat desert with loose sand and no cover), camel grass, mud, and rocks. It is a race like no other, and it's one of the toughest challenges offroaders and rock crawlers will ever face in their lives!

The race runs for 5,500 miles, and the temperatures that drivers have to suffer through are extreme to say the least!

In the 2013 race, 450 vehicles began the race -- but 1/3 of the vehicles were unable to cross the finish line.

The race is broken up into stages, and the length of each stage varies. Some stages are very short, while others require the drivers to cover upwards of 800 kilometers in a single day!

In the race, there are three competitive groups:

The Moto Class

The moto class is itself divided into three smaller groups:

  • Group 1 is Marathon bikes, or regular bikes that have been modified somewhat. The group is itself divided into two classes, based on the power of the engines. Those with engines greather than 451 cc are in one class, and those with engines less than 450 cc are in another class.
  • Group 2 is the Super Production class, which are standard bikes that have been greatly customized. They have the same engine subclasses as Group 1.
  • Group 3 is for four-wheelers, and they are divided into groups with engines less and greater than 500 cc.


Many of the winning bikes were made by companies like BMW, KTM, Honda, and Yamaha -- all amazing brands for off-roading and extreme motorbikes!

The Car Class

The vehicles permitted in this class must weigh less than 3,500 kilograms, and they too are divided into smaller groups:

  • T1 vehicles are cross country vehicles that have been improved on or modified.
  • T2 vehicles are cross country vehicles that are used as produced.
  • Open vehicles are any that pass the weight limits, and can even include trucks.

While the European cars once held the lead in this race, the Japanese have actually dominated the Dakar Rally. The most successful racing car in the history of the Dakar Rally is the Mitsubishi Montero/Pajero/Shogun, as it won the Dakar Rally for 7 consecutive years.

The Truck Class

The truck class is for any vehicle that weighs more than 3,500 kilograms, and there are only two divisions of these vehicles:

  • T4 trucks are the ones that can participate in the competition, but they must be standardized or homologated in order to qualify.
  • T5 trucks are just the rally support trucks

To give you an idea of how perilous the rally can be, more than 20 racers have perished since the race began in 1978. Thousands of vehicles have been damaged beyond repair, and many racers have been seriously injured.

The fortnight of challenges is one that many people take weeks to recover from, as the extreme climates and terrains drivers must go through can push the human body beyond the breaking point.

Despite this, the race continues to be one of the most popular offroading events in the world -- attended by millions of racing fans from around the world. Imagine the sheer thrill of being able to pit yourself and your vehicle against some of the toughest driving conditions in the world?

If I had the money to bring myself and an offroad vehicle that was able to keep up with the wicked terrain, you can bet your boots that I'd sign up for the grueling race in a heartbeat!

It must be a thrill to be out in the middle of the desert, driving along the Mediterranean coast, or navigating the sheer heights of the Andes Mountains.

It truly is a dream for extreme offroaders!


Thrandur Arnthorsson
Thrandur is the chief-editor and owner of 4x4 Off Roads and an 4x4 off road enthusiast. Living in Iceland he loves to share the coolest 4x4 trucks and supporting more offroad freedom. If you want to get YOUR 4x4 featured on 4x4OffRoads you can post your story here.
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