A Short History of the Dakar Rally

In every sport, there is a great tournament or competition that is known among the fans of that discipline. Like Wimbledon is known among tennis fans or UEFA Champions League among soccer fans, so is the Dakar Rally among those who closely follow and admire rally raids.

A rally raid is a form of off-road racing that can last for several days. It’s very common for these races to last 2 or 3 days. However, the Dakar Rally can last as long as 15 days, which makes it one of the most interesting rally raids among the fans. In this article, we’ll take a look at the history of this competition, from its early days to the latest racing events. 

How It All Came To Be

The first-ever Dakar Rally was organized in December 1978. Actually, the race began on the 26th of December 1978 and ended on the 14th of January 1979. The name of the race at the time was The Paris-Dakar Rally, and it started with 182 vehicles in Paris and ended in Dakar. Only 74 contestants made it to the finish line after crossing 6,200 miles. Since there had been two categories, one for motorcycles other for cars, there were also two winners. The motorcycle category was won by Cyril Neveu who rode a Yamaha, and Alain Genestier won first place in the car category by driving a Range Rover. The event itself gained so much popularity that over 200 vehicles participated in 1980 and 291 in 1981. By 1982, 382 participants joined the Dakar Rally which was more than double the number of racers from the first years. 

NPiquet81, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons – cropped

Dakar Rally During The 90s

There were several changes that happened in the late 80s and the beginning of the 90s that left a permanent mark on the history of the Dakar Rally. Firstly, there was the first winner driving a Peugeot called Ari Vatanen that marked the dominance of the French in the race. Moreover, the number of participants reached 603, which drew even more attention to the competition. When Peugeot decided to join the World Sportscar Championship, the Citroen brand took its place and a third consecutive victory for the French. Lastly, the motorcycle category was also won by a Frenchmen in 1991 called Stéphane Peterhansel that placed that nation on the pedestal at the Dakar Rally race. It’s also important to mention that in 1992 GPS technology was used in the race for the first time and it was also the year when the finish line moved to Cape Town. 

Recent Years

The competition saw another great change in 2009 when the race was moved to South America, where Volkswagen took its first win. In 2015 the fans of Dakar Rally saw a great comeback of Peugeot, but it still wasn’t good enough to beat X-raid’s Minis. However, the French brand won in 2016, 2017, and 2018m until it made an official decision to leave the competition. 

Sports Cars Fan, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons – cropped