Czechs love Dakar. They follow the race, individual teams, cheer across categories. If you are reading these lines, it is very likely that you are also one of the fans. However, did you know that…
1. The crossings to the start of individual stages are often longer than a Formula 1 race
A Formula 1 race must not last more than two hours and must not be shorter than 305 kilometers. The Dakar racers now just smile wryly – both of them almost always experience crossings every day. Motorcycle riders suffer the most when they start early in the morning in winter. Baby powders, gel pads, but even just a raincoat under the bum. Basic equipment for every motorcyclist.
But it’s not a win in cars either, the Dakar specials are anything but comfortable, especially the navigators sit very contorted – they don’t have room for their legs. Then you drive with earplugs or headphones, you have no chance to hear yourself.
2. The Dakar can be even harder. You just have to choose the right category
The Dakar Rally ranks among the most demanding motor races in the world. The competition is held for fourteen days and is exhausting for the competitors, mechanics and the entire supporting field. This year it is eight thousand kilometers in total, of which five thousand are sharp.
Bikers themselves are crazy, standing all day in footboards, picking themselves up after rough falls, driving to the point of exhaustion and always having to choose between speeding up a little more or coming home in one piece. When someone dies on the Dakar, it’s usually a biker.
Still, there is a way bikers can make it even harder. The Original by Motul category is advertised for competitors who ride alone, on their own, without an escort. They sleep in a tent next to a motorcycle, their two boxes (one with personal belongings, the other with tools) are transported between bivouacs by the organizers. They repair the motorbikes themselves, they can help each other as much as possible. This year, matador David Pabiška and Libor Podmol are riding it from the Czech Republic. Both of them admit that it is not only because of the desire for adventure, but also because of the money. Nevertheless, participation in the Dakar will cost them more than 2.7 million crowns.
3. The organizers of the Dakar also organize the Tour de France
Tour de France and Dakar. Both races are about crossing long distances, endurance, heroic performances and team support. But one rides a bicycle and the other rides in cars, trucks, or motorcycles. So what else do they have in common?
Well, the fact that both events are organized by the same organization! Amaury Sport Organization (ASO) bought the rights to the Dakar from Gilbert Sabine, father of Thierry Sabine, who founded the entire competition in 1978.
4. If you want to start the Dakar, you have to accept the fact that you won’t finish it
As David Castera, the director of the competition, says: “If everyone reached the finish line, it wouldn’t be the Dakar.” Last year, a third of the participants did not finish the race. Which is a pretty good score since barely half of the contestants made it in 2019. And in 2007 it was only two out of five. However, the year 1987 was by far the worst, when not even a quarter of the starters finished the race.
5. You don’t just need money and equipment for the Dakar
To compete in the Dakar, you need more than just a racing machine and entry fee money. And speaking of that… you’ll need 2.7 million if you start from the couch and ride in the Original by Motul class. With a small buggy, expect the amount to be at least three times higher. But we may still get the money.
In order to compete in the Dakar, you also need an FIA or FIM racing license. And you must drive at least one international long-distance rally before that. Most of the competitors take part in October’s Rallye du Maroc, which is organized by the same organizers and takes it as a qualification for the Dakar.
6. You can win 11 stages out of 12, but you still won’t win the Dakar. Why?
Imagine winning 11 stages out of 12. That means you should be the clear winner and by a huge margin. But Seth Quintero did exactly this at the Dakar in 2022 and still didn’t win.
If you are taking a breath right now and want to say that it is not possible, then know that in order to win the Dakar, you must first of all complete every (!) stage. And that’s exactly what Quintero couldn’t do when his differential snapped right in the second stage. He did get to the bivouac, but when he started again the next day, he was already out of order. What about the fact that he won all the other stages. He couldn’t even drive through the finish ramp, he didn’t even get a finisher’s medal.
When you don’t finish a stage, i.e. accept help from someone else or don’t finish within the set time limit, you get a so-called “stage penalty”, which means all of the above and a huge penalty as a bonus. This year, Tomáš Ouředníček, Dušan Drdaj on a motorcycle and several Czech trucks were also encountered in the 48h Chrono.
7. Is the 48h Chrono the hardest stage in history? Most likely not
We have completed a forty-eight-hour stage in the dreaded Wasteland. Seven hours behind the wheel in one piece, sleep in a tent in the middle of nowhere, then drive the rest in the morning. For Martin Prokop, for example, it meant reaching the goal of 180 kilometers.
But in 1986, for example, the total length of the competition was an unbelievable 12,679 kilometers. The route led competitors from France to Algeria, Nigeria, Mali, Guinea and even Senegal. And the longest stage was 1,600 kilometers!
8. They threw a crown for victory. That is ten francs
If you immediately thought that the winners probably reached the finish line at the same time, then it would sound romantic, but quite unrealistic. Although… Last year, only 43 seconds separated the first and second biker at the finish after 4,700 sharp kilometers!
In 1989, however, there was a threat of a fratricidal duel between the Peugeot drivers. Ari Vatanen and Jacky Ickx drove the legendary Peugeot 405 T16 and cut like horses. Jean Todt, the team principal, did not want to take the risk of putting both cars out of the race in the event of an accident, so both drivers tossed a coin. It was a French ten-franc coin and the winner was Ari Vatanen who chose a virgin. But it didn’t end there… The performances of both drivers were equal, and in the penultimate stage, Vatanen got lost, so he lost the advantage. In the last 61 kilometer long stage, Ickx had to take his foot off the gas and allow himself to be overtaken.
It was not only a turning point in the history of the Dakar, but also a turning year in general. Peugeot designed a unique racing special exclusively for the Dakar, engaged two top pilots and brought an army of sixty technicians and specialists to the race. The budget at the time was about six million euros, which was enough for an average team for the whole season. The rest of the starting field, made up of private teams and enthusiastic amateurs, didn’t stand a chance.
9. It’s a motorcycle, car and truck race, but still has strict speed limits
Do you remember the memorable video when Jan De Rooy’s twin-engine DAF crushes a Peugeot 205? Ari Vatanen had to bite the steering wheel in anger, at the finish line he only said that he was driving around 210 km/h. It looks amazing, but we all also remember how it turned out…
For safety reasons, Dakar racing cars have a limited top speed. Trucks may not go more than 140 km/h, cars 170 km/h, motorcycles 160 km/h, and cars of class T3 and T4, i.e. small buggies, only 130 km/h. However, the organizers of the last years wound it up in such a way that the competitors did not even come close to the maximum speeds if possible.
10. One brand has won the Dakar Rally 18 times in a row. And no, it wasn’t Kamaz
In its time, Kamaz was unstoppable. Before that, it was the Mitsubishi Pajero Evo. And before that it was Peugeot. However, neither brand was able to win eighteen times in a row.
The best brand in the Dakar is KTM, its supremacy was only ended in 2020 by Honda.
11. During the race, someone stole the leading car. He demanded a ransom of 250 thousand francs!
Peugeot reigned the Dakar not only in 1989, but also the year before. But Ari Vatanen didn’t win in the end because his car was stolen.
It sounds strange and unbelievable. But back then the race was in wild Africa and the locals often had no understanding of the race. Don’t be surprised. Too many bystanders died under the wheels of racing cars, and so did their animals, their most valuable possessions. That is why the plant moved to South America.
Vatanen drove for the win, but when he parked his racing special at the football stadium at the end of one stage and arrived at the spot in the morning, the car was not there. Most riders then slept in a tent town, some in hotels. The team immediately alerted the police, they searched for the car, but to no avail. Team boss Jean Todt later said he was approached at the hotel reception by a man of European appearance who demanded a ransom. “He wanted me to bring 250,000 French francs in a taxi within fifteen minutes.”
Whether Peugeot eventually paid the ransom or not has not been officially clarified to this day. However, the car eventually appeared, without the slightest damage, and Ari Vatanen appeared on the start. He was disqualified on the second day because, according to the organizers, he was not at the start 30 minutes before the scheduled departure time. Vatanen thus broke the rules regardless of the circumstances and handed the victory to teammate Kankkunen.
A few days later, he said at the finish of the competition: “I am not particularly happy about this victory.” And then he added that he only went to the ceremony for the sake of journalists and a crowd of 50,000 spectators.
Every Dakar writes its own stories, and this year’s will certainly not be an exception…