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After the shock of the cancellation of 2008 Dakar Rally, there was a period of time when everybody was asking… If not Africa, where else? The guessing started immediately, and several options where on the table: Russia, Asia, Middle East and South America. After some months of anxious wait, ASO finally revealed that the destination will be South America.

The crossing of the Atlantic proved to be a real challenge for the organisation and participants. During all these years we always assisted to great editions of the Dakar. Not the Dakar we were used to, and to be honest, in our case we weren’t expecting it was. The Mauritanian dunes only exist in Mauritania, the Pink Lake only in Dakar. But South America has its own enchantments and amazing places, too: the Andes are quite something, like an omnipresent God that oversees the whole race, then there are some places like the amazing Iquique descent, the white dunes of Fiambalá or the Salar in Bolivia just to bring three examples, but there are many others. And above all, in all countries crossed there is the public – the amazing public that enjoys the race like no other, and their love and enthusiasm make this race very special for all the participants.

But, on the other hand, the move to South America also brought problems, especially one that was not initially predicted, is the biggest headache of the organisation, and even last year caused lots and lots of problems: the weather. Rain in the desert, rain in the mountains, rain in the cities, rain everywhere, you name it, surely at least in one of the Dakar’s South American editions should had rained there. 

Apart from the problems, the move to South America was notorious by the change on the race tracks, that were in a big part roads, many similar to WRC. The percentage of sandy parts was reduced, and even in the stages with sand, it is not like the African sand that brings back so many memories to the participants and to the spectators who followed the race by the media.

During all these year many voices were heard saying that the Dakar lost his magic, that South American stages, even the difficult ones aren’t up to the label “the hardest rally of the world”.

The organisers before any race has always a difficult task to negotiate the route with the countries.  Forgetting the monetary issues (even if this is the most important), there are many details to take into account, and the success of those negotiations always determine where the rally will pass and what kind of tracks will the participants face.

For this 40th edition of the Dakar Rally, the organisers prepared a route that simply dropped the teams in one of the most complicated landscapes of the whole continent. The Peruvian dunes are proving to be a real challenge, and none of the competitors is having a “walk in the park”.  From bikes to trucks, from the seasoned pros to the amateurs, they all are facing a serious challenge. 

Just after a few stages of this year’s edition of the Dakar Rally, the list of retirements is long already, and it already includes some of the favourites in all the classes. And as for the ones still in race, a big part of them already had their share of troubles, either mechanic, or caused by navigation errors or by accidents.

No one can say now that the South American Dakar isn’t a real challenge because it is. And a really huge one. Only four days into this edition of the Rally it is already proven that this is in fact really the “hardest rally of the world”. And Peru still has something more waiting for the racers, because only in a couple of days the rally will climb the Andes towards Bolivia, where usually more difficulties show up including the cold, the rain and the altitude.

Does this edition finally mark the return of the “Real Dakar”? Maybe yes. Surely not the “African Dakar”, for the moment that is part of the history of this race, and maybe also for the distant future. But the spirit of the race could have returned, posing a serious challenge to man and machine, taking both to their limits and exposing their weaknesses at the first chance.  The reward of reaching the end will be an immense feeling of fulfilment and achievement for those lucky enough to hold on until the finish podium.

There are still many kilometres ahead, and by the speed that the caravan is shrinking we will not even try to guess how many will arrive in Argentina to celebrate their conquest that was to finish the Rally.

For the moment we wish luck and a safe journey to those still racing and a fast recovery to the ones already in hospital, some with serious injuries.

The Rally-Raid Network
Photo: ASO/@World/A.Vialatte

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