Learn the Fascinating History of the Dakar Rally

There is an annual off-road endurance rally competition that travels over difficult terrains over several thousand kilometers. It generally travels from one continent to another, stopping in different nations. The inaugural race since then has grown to be one of the most renowned and challenging competitions in the world, drawing elite competitors and teams from all over the world.

What is Dakar Rally?

The Amaury Sport Organization organizes the annual Dakar Rally (also known as “The Dakar”; originally the “Paris-Dakar Rally”). Since the rally’s beginning in 1979, many events have been conducted between Paris, France, and Dakar, Senegal; however, because of security concerns in Mauritania, which forced the 2008 rally’s postponement, events from 2009 through 2019 have been held in South America. The gathering has taken place in Saudi Arabia since 2020. Both amateur and professional entrants are accepted for the competition, with professionals generally making up roughly 80% of the competitors.

The rally is an endurance off-road race. In contrast to traditional rallying, the participants must navigate considerably harsher terrain, and the vehicles they utilize are generally motorbikes and actual off-road vehicles rather than adapted on-road vehicles. Most of the competitive special parts are off-road and include navigating obstacles including erg, dunes, mud, and camel grass. The lengths traveled on each stage range from brief excursions up to 800-900 kilometers (500–560 miles) every day. “Amateurs” frequently have trouble with the competition. Accidents and catastrophic injuries are frequently the results of the difficult terrain and a lack of competence.


A yearly off-road endurance competition, the Dakar Rally, commonly referred to as the “Paris-Dakar Rally,” was first held in 1979. The rally that French racers participated in through Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia served as the inspiration for the creation of the event. The race’s name derives from its first course, which began in Paris, France, and ended in Dakar, Senegal. 

Prior to the addition of vehicles and trucks, motorcyclists predominated in the early years of the rally. Top drivers and teams from across the world attended the event after it swiftly rose to prominence. However, in 2008 the race was transferred to South America, beginning in 2009, and it now begins in Lima, Peru, and concludes in Santiago, Chile owing to security concerns in Africa. Over the course of two weeks, the race travels more than 5,000 kilometers.

The rally has a more than 40-year history and has become one of the most prestigious and challenging competitions in the world of racing.

Vehicles and Classes

The motorbikes, quads, automobiles class (which includes anything from buggies to compact SUVs), UTVs, and trucks class are the five competing categories in Dakar. Even though most cars are significantly modified from their production specifications or custom-built, many automakers use the rally’s challenging climate as a testing ground and a chance to showcase their vehicles’ resilience.

Vehicles are categorized into classes according to their engine size, weight, and other technical characteristics, and each class has its own set of laws and regulations. There are distinct class rankings and prizes, but the cars in each class also fight for the overall triumph.


For the 2005 rally, regulations set a 450cc cap on twin-cylinder motorcycle displacement. Motorcycles with a single cylinder remained in the open class with no weight restriction.

All motorcycles that participate in the Dakar Rally must have an engine that is no larger than 450cc as of 2011. Engines can have one or two cylinders. Riders are split into two categories: “Elite” (Group 1) and “Non-Elite,” with the latter being further separated into the “Super Production” (Group 2.1) and “Marathon” (Group 2.2) divisions. Key components like the engine (including the engine case, cylinders, and cylinder heads), the frame, the forks, or the swinging arm cannot be changed by “Marathon” participants; however, these parts can be changed by “Super Production” and “Elite” competitors.


Both production-based and prototype vehicles fall under this category of four-wheeled vehicles. This class has several subcategories, including Original by Motul (for production-based automobiles), T1 (for modified automobiles), and T3 (for vehicles with engines less than 2.5 liters). Additionally, a category called “Open” is available for cars that comply with SCORE rules.


Vehicles having six or more wheels fall under this category, which also includes prototypes.

Vehicles weighing more than 3,500 kg go in the Truck class (Group T4), which was first raced as a separate category in 1980. (7,716 lb). Group T4.3 (formerly known as T5) trucks are rally support trucks, which means they move from bivouac to bivouac to support the competition cars. Trucks competing in the competition are classified into “Series Production” trucks (T4.1) and “Modified” trucks (T4.2). In 1998, they were added to the rally. After a DAF crew member died in an accident during the 1988 rally, it was judged that the trucks, which by this point had dual engines producing more than 1000 horsepower, were too unsafe to race in 1989.


This class is for solo riders on four-wheeled vehicles. Prior to 2009, quads belonged to the motorbike category. However, in 2009, they were given their own independent classification and are now referred to as Group 3 in the current regulations. They are separated into two subgroups: Group 3.1, which allows four-wheel drive quads with a maximum engine displacement of 900cc in either a single or dual-cylinder configuration, and Group 3.2, which allows two-wheel drive quads with a maximum engine displacement of 750cc.


In 2017, the utility task vehicle (UTV) category was established. Up until this point, UTVs belonged to the T3 class of cars. The class quickly gained popularity, and in 2021 it was further separated into two categories: T4 SSVs, which are based on production vehicles, and T3 light prototypes.

The Dakar Rally is renowned for its extreme circumstances that push both human and mechanical capabilities. The rally is one of the toughest motorsports competitions in the world and involves a combination of speed, endurance, and strategy to be successful.

List of Winners

Since it began in 1979, the Dakar Rally has been organized every year, and over the years, various drivers and riders have triumphed. The winners of the Dakar Rally are listed below by year:

  • 1979: Cyril Neveu (motorcycle)
  • 1980: Gaston Rahier (motorcycle)
  • 1981: Hubert Auriol (motorcycle)
  • 1982: Gaston Rahier (motorcycle)
  • 1983: Jacky Ickx (car)
  • 1984: Jacky Ickx (car)
  • 1985: Jacky Ickx (car)
  • 1986: Ari Vatanen (car)
  • 1987: Ari Vatanen (car)
  • 1988: Ari Vatanen (car)
  • 1989: Ari Vatanen (car)
  • 1990: Jean-Louis Schlesser (car)
  • 1991: Ari Vatanen (car)
  • 1992: Ari Vatanen (car)
  • 1993: Jacques Laffite (car)
  • 1994: Kenjiro Shinozuka (car)
  • 1995: Pierre Lartigue (motorcycle)
  • 1996: Jean-Louis Schlesser (car)
  • 1997: Jean-Louis Schlesser (car)
  • 1998: Jean-Louis Schlesser (car)
  • 1999: Stephane Peterhansel (motorcycle)
  • 2000: Richard Sainct (motorcycle)
  • 2001: Stephane Peterhansel (motorcycle)
  • 2002: Fabrizio Meoni (motorcycle)
  • 2003: Stephane Peterhansel (motorcycle)
  • 2004: Stephane Peterhansel (motorcycle)
  • 2005: Cyril Despres (motorcycle)
  • 2006: Marc Coma (motorcycle)
  • 2007: Marc Coma (motorcycle)
  • 2008: Cyril Despres (motorcycle)
  • 2009: Stephane Peterhansel (car)
  • 2010: Carlos Sainz (car)
  • 2011: Marc Coma (motorcycle)
  • 2012: Stephane Peterhansel (car)
  • 2013: Marc Coma (motorcycle)
  • 2014: Nasser Al-Attiyah (car)
  • 2015: Toby Price (motorcycle)
  • 2016: Stephane Peterhansel (car)
  • 2017: Sam Sunderland (motorcycle)
  • 2018: Carlos Sainz (car)
  • 2019: Nasser Al-Attiyah (car)
  • 2020: Ricky Brabec (motorcycle)
  • 2021: Kees Koolen (car)


Known for its arduous weather and difficult terrain, the Dakar Rally can result in mishaps and catastrophes. The following are some significant events in the rally’s history:

  • Mark Thatcher, the son of the British Prime Minister at the time, Anne-Charlotte Verney, a French co-driver, and their mechanic vanished for six days in 1982. On January 9, the three stopped to fix a broken steering arm and later lost contact with a group of moving automobiles. Their disappearance was reported on January 12. Following a thorough search, a military Lockheed L-100 (a C-130 Hercules variant) search jet from Algeria located their white Peugeot 504 about 50 kilometers (31 miles) off route. Verney, Thatcher, and the mechanic all escaped unharmed.
  • Thierry Sabine was killed at 7:30 p.m. when his Ecureuil helicopter (a.k.a. “Squirrel-copter”) crashed. on Tuesday, January 14, 1986, amid an unexpected sandstorm in Mali, into a dune. The journalist Nathalie Odent, the musician Daniel Balavoine, the helicopter pilot François-Xavier Bagnoud, and Jean-Paul Lefur, a radiophonic engineer for the French radio station RTL, were all also fatalities on board.
  • Six participants lost their lives during the rally in 2000, including Fabrizio Meoni, a two-time champion. In one incident, a racer struck and killed 10-year-old Mali girl named Baye Sibi as she crossed a road.
  • In 2003, Bruno Cauvy was killed when French driver Daniel Nebot spun and smashed his Toyota hard at high speed.
  • Several racers suffered injuries in a collision involving many automobiles in 2007.
  • The 2008 Dakar Rally was canceled due to security concerns following the Christmas Eve 2007 murder of four French tourists by al-Qaeda in Mauritania (where the rally spent eight days), as well as other accusations that the rally was “neo-colonialist” and that Mauritania supported “crusaders, apostates, and infidels.”
  • The body of French biker Pascal Terry, 49-year-old, was discovered on January 7, 2009. His corpse was found on a remote section of the second stage between Santa Rosa de la Pampa and Puerto Madryn after he had been missing for three days.
  • A spectator died in 2010 after being involved in a car-truck crash.
  • Argentina’s Jorge Martinez Boero, a motorcyclist, passed away on January 1, 2012, from a cardiac arrest brought on by a fall. Within five minutes of the collision, he received medical attention, but he passed while on the route to the hospital.
  • Several racers suffered injuries in a collision involving several automobiles in 2015.
  • Portuguese motorbike racer Paulo Gonçalves passed away on January 12, 2020, after a heart attack brought on by a collision on the seventh stage.
  • Due to political turbulence in the host nation, Saudi Arabia, the most recent Dakar Rally in 2021 had to be cut short.

Overall, the Dakar Rally is a dangerous event, and the organizers are always reviewing and improving their safety protocols to protect participants, officials, and spectators.

Race Dates

The dates of the annual Dakar Rally change from year to year. The Amaury Sport Organization (ASO), the event’s organizer, releases the precise dates of the race in advance. The dates for the most recent Dakar Rally are as follows:

  • 2020: January 5th – 17th (Cancelled due to COVID-19 pandemic)
  • 2021: January 3rd – 15th
  • 2022: January 2nd – 14th
  • 2023: January 2nd – 14th

The Dakar Rally is a multi-stage event that takes around two weeks to complete from beginning to end. It begins with a prologue and the last stage is the arrival at the ultimate destination. The rally’s exact dates and routes should be checked by the organizer as they are subject to change.


Whether you are a lover of business, racing, adventure, travel, or any other genre, the Dakar Rally is a distinctive and thrilling event that offers a wealth of fascinating stories and insights.