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The Dakar – a unique challenge

The Dakar Rally is steeped in history having begun 44 years ago and is acknowledged as one of motorsport’s biggest challenges.

The name comes from the original path the rally took from Paris to the capital city of Senegal, Dakar, which was used up until 2008 when the event was cancelled due to security threats in Mauritania. South America then played host for the next 10 years before the rally moved to its current location in Saudi Arabia.

A mix of professional and amateur crews take part using bespoke off-road vehicles, which cover up as much as 900 kilometres a day depending on the stage.

Thierry Sabine created the rally and it evolved very quickly as manufacturers became heavily involved by the mid-1980s led by Japanese brand Mitsubishi as it was soon joined by Porsche. The motorcycle class was the same with BMW, Yamaha and Honda all winning during the early years.

Despite the canning of the World Rally Championship’s Group B regulations in 1986, many of these found new homes in the Dakar sparking an increased presence from manufacturers including Peugeot, Citroen and an upped effort from Porsche.

Before this growth, Sabine was killed in a helicopter crash during the 1986 running of the event.

During the 1990s and 2000s, Mitsubishi dominated the event to win 12 times including seven in a row between 2001 and 2007.

Manufacturers including BMW, Nissan and Volkswagen all provided competition, but it was the latter, which achieved success once the rally moved to South America in 2009.

Mini, Peugeot and Toyota have all enjoyed success, but Audi this year has already made history by becoming the first manufacturer to win a stage with an electric entry.

Another unique aspect is the Truck competition, which Russian marque Kamaz has dominated.

Currently, factory Toyota driver Nasser Al-Attiyah leads the way from seven-time WRC champion Sebastien Loeb in Prodrive’s latest creation the BRX Hunter T1+ by a margin of 25s.

Third is Audi’s lead entry with multiple winner Carlos Sainz behind the wheel.

The bike section has been a successful category for Australians in recent times due to Toby Price’s two wins in 2016 and 2019.

This year, Daniel Sanders leads the Aussie charge in fourth after Price dropped time on Stage 4 and is now 16th overall.

This year’s Dakar finishes on January 14.