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Dangers Of The Desert – The Dakar Rally

An exceedingly dangerous race across South America's rugged terrain

A lone motorcycle racer traversing the Atacama in the 2009 Dakar Rally. Photo by Noemi G.

You’ve probably heard of the Indianapolis 500 or the Grand Prix, but have you ever heard of the Dakar Rally? This dangerous off-road spectacle makes the crown of NASCAR look like a parking lot drag race between bored valet drivers.

It began when racer Thierry Sabine got disoriented during a rally in 1977 and ended up off course in the desert. After the experience, he decided the desert would make a good location for a race, and decided to start the Dakar Rally, an annual race that would run from Paris to Dakar, Senegal. The race continued to follow this course (with occasional variations) up until 2008 when terrorist threats in Mauritania forced the Dakar Rally to be cancelled.

Due to these events, the race was moved in 2009 to South America, where it continues to run every January. The race starts off  in Buenos Aires, Argentina and finishes in Lima, Peru. The race is open to both amateur and professional racers, and is broken up into three separate classes consisting of motorbikes, cars and trucks.

True to its history, the race is exceedingly dangerous and features intensely rugged terrain that calls for specially designed off-road vehicles rather than the slightly modified on-road models commonly seen in most rallies. Drivers must traverse harrowing dunes, sand drifts and sections of mud and rock, all the while facing the ever-present danger of getting lost in the desert.

This year’s race runs from January 1–15.

By: Erik Keithley