“It’s Dakar. It’s still a bit nuts”
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.