“It’s Dakar. It’s still a bit nuts”

Motor Sport News - - Rally News -

What’s the point of Dakar?

Let’s look be­yond the whole name thing: ral­ly­ing does have a bit of a record when it comes to mis­lead­ing monikers – just look at the open­ing round of the World Rally Cham­pi­onship, an event with pre­cisely zero com­pet­i­tive miles in Monte Carlo.

But a two-week, 6000-mile trek from Buenos Aires through the An­des and back, does it have rel­e­vance any more? It’s hard to ar­gue in favour of the man­u­fac­tur­ers, when there’s only one (Peu­geot) re­ally con­test­ing the event with any great sig­nif­i­cance.

It was dif­fer­ent when Mit­subishi, Nis­san and Volk­swa­gen were us­ing the event to sell us on the off-road abil­i­ties of their re­spec­tive Pa­jero, Pickup and Touareg. But Peu­geot’s 2008 isn’t about to start fly­ing out of the door off the back of a Car­los Sainz suc­cess on Satur­day week.

Be­fore Christ­mas I was at PSA’S Satory test track with Se­bastien Loeb. It was im­pos­si­ble not to ad­mire the 2008 DKR up close. It’s gor­geous.

But two weeks from to­day, it’ll be re­dun­dant for an­other year. Yes, yes, I know all about the var­i­ous cross-coun­try races, but this scene is all about Dakar. Sorry, I thought I was over the name thing. Turns out, I’m not. Peru’s de­ci­sion to turn the event away for fear of El Nino’s me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal mad­ness over­stretch­ing its emer­gency ser­vices (not a bad move if the first week’s any­thing to go by…) left the ASO with the Her­culean task of recre­at­ing the route with a mat­ter of weeks to spare.

That meant more mileage in Ar­gentina and tak­ing the event fur­ther from its roots than ever. The Dakar was sup­posed to be about a race across the desert. Sand and dunes will be in fairly short sup­ply this time around. Un­doubt­edly, the weather will pro­duce its own chal­lenge this year – as it did when hun­dreds of crews were stranded by a hugely swollen river on the road from La Rioja to Fi­ambala in 2013. And let’s not for­get last year, when the rest day bivouac in Salta was al­most washed away. Rain and rivers aren’t what Dakar’s about. Sand­storms in Mau­ri­ta­nia and the Al­ge­rian mil­i­tary search­ing for miss­ing Prime Min­is­ter’s sons are what Dakar’s about.

Seems I’m not alone in ques­tion­ing Dakar ei­ther. With 61 deaths, of which 28 have been com­peti­tors, since the first event in 1979, plenty are will­ing to ques­tion the safety record – par­tic­u­larly when it comes to spec­ta­tor safety, an el­e­ment brought once more into sharp fo­cus at last week’s prologue stage.

I know, I know, there’s no chance of tak­ing the thing back to Africa. But we do need some­thing to cap­ture the imag­i­na­tion again. And, some­how, we need to stop stop­ping when it rains.

Rain’s not Dakar and stop­ping in the rain’s not ral­ly­ing.

Hav­ing said all of that, will I check 10 times a day to see who’s win­ning? Of course I will.

It’s Dakar. It’s still a bit nuts.

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