Last time we compared the succession of events this year to the best Mexican telenovelas, with a story so deep and full of details that you will never ever understand it until the very end. And how right we were back then… Today we expected to have the very last “episode”, clearing up all the questions, but we got something very different. Our main protagonist, the Dakar rally, saw yesterday one of the possible host countries, Chile turning its back to next year’s edition of the rally, almost like a bride escaping from the altar in the last minute. This unexpected event left almost everybody in shock, raising anxiety levels specially among the ones wishing to race 2019 Dakar rally.
In our favourite "telenovela", last week the events apparently started to give us some hints of what is to come. First came the news from Argentina: It is not known yet if this country will be in or out of the route, but a "new element" showed up last week: the local government applied for a loan to FMI to help to cope with the ongoing crisis affecting this most valuable partner of Dakar Rally (and its safe ground since the 2009 edition). It could be now even more difficult for the government to justify to their people the amount spent on the rally, if would go there. But this "episode" and the “relation” between Dakar and Argentina has also another protagonist: Formula 1 - the local authorities don't hide the desire to receive F1 back. The love for motorsports of the Argentinian people is legendary, and it is one of the biggest assets of the country, at least from the organisers point of view. For this reason, every racer feels welcomed there, so is not surprising that F1 also wants to go there. The problem: Argentina doesn't have the money for both events, or maybe, not even for just one.
Then, still last week, the presentation dates of Dakar 2019 where set, with several locations being announced all over the world. Back then, it looked like the end of this suspense. The "telenovela" looked like it was racing towards the end at a fast pace, a relief not only for us, but also for the many teams who want race the next edition.
From Bolivia and Ecuador also showed up news and comments that they will enter next year’s route, leaving us with a Chile, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador as possible route. We aren’t considering here Argentina for obvious reasons, but there is still the possibility for it to enter. We can only rule it out when ASO presents the route.
No "telenovela" can be called a "telenovela" if it doesn't have some pretty dramatic twists. The lastest in this sucession of events was the unexpected Chilean decision. After the invitations to the presentation sessions had been sent out to the press and possible competitors, ASO postponed the dates until further notice due to "new elements" coming from host countries. And even if officially we can't link ASO's decision to Chile's goverment one, it will be quite odd if they weren't linked. The news about this came from Pauline Kantor, sports minister of Chile who said yesterday to the press that: "We face a very complicated fiscal situation. The government is applying an austerity policy. This means we should use our resources in a responsible way. We have decided that Chile will not be part of 2019 Dakar route." The minister nevertheless also said that for 2020 the country will be part of the route.
It is not known how many stages of Dakar 2019 could be hosted by Chile but should be a substantial number. Chile requested some weeks ago a reduction in the fee to host the rally, from 4 to 2 million dollars. Apparently, the rally's organiser agreed, and everything was on track, making Chile's decision quite suprising. Maybe ASO could have made some last minute requirements, that the Chileans considered unacceptable and pulled out of the deal, whe don't know.
This was for sure a hard blow to ASO's plans for 2019, forcing them back to the negotiating table with the other countries, that should now receive more stages than initially predicted. But we must not forget the teams, that are seeing their timetable starting to squeeze. Some are reconsidering plans, and we have at least one victim already - Renault Argentina pulled out of the rally a few days ago.
Looking at other locations, we said it often that Africa looks like a future destination, but not for the time being, as the continent offers no fast solution due to several issues. Yet, it can and will probably be a solution in the mid-term. The arms of the mother land appear more open than ever before since Dakar leaving its real home in 2009. For sure, Africa has adopted a new son already, even gave to that youngster the bedroom and toys of older one - Africa Eco Race is there, starting from Europe, crossing Morocco and Mauritania towards the Pink Lake in the same dates that Dakar Rally takes place. But a mother has always space in her heart to welcome a son back, and Dakar already had routes in Africa that didn't finish in Senegal's capital. Maybe Algeria, that already confirmed the negotiations will make this possible. Or even in the far south... who knows?
Now all of us who follow the rally are sent back to the conspiracy theories about what could really happened and what the future could hold. This story has more twists and turns than the most elaborated telenovela, but we only wish that in the end the main character does not fall dead backstabbed by any of his pretenders.