What makes Dakar the toughest rally in the world?

Motor Racing is that one activity, the gravity of which has been pulling human adrenaline towards itself since the very first motored vehicle started rolling forward. Some racing events though, probe human and engineering abilities to such a great extent, only the greats dare to enrol. And even from that select bunch, only a few chosen ones emerge to be victorious. One such event is the Dakar Rally – an off-road endurance event which has been exploring the boundaries that a man-machine combination can push, since 1978.

How tough is it if you ask? Well, how does covering anything between 200 – 900 km of treacherous terrain, which includes sand dunes, mud, rocks, ravines, and everything else that exists on Earth sound!? If you’ve just tried hard to find the ‘difficult’ within the text above, may we add that participants and their machines are required to endure those situations while covering those distances every day!

The Dakar Rally is an annual rally raid which featured its first edition in 1978, that covered the 10,000 km long distance between Paris in Mainland Europe and Dakar in Senegal, Africa. For the 1992 edition, the finish line was moved to Cape Town in South Africa in an effort to combat the declining number of competitors. This was also the year when GPS technology was first introduced to the event. Security threats in Mauritania led to the cancellation of the 2008 rally and for that reason, the Dakar since 2009 has been held in Chile, Bolivia and Argentina in South America. Open to amateurs and professionals alike, the former typically make for about eighty percent of the participants.

Since the conditions, terrain and duration of the event are far tougher on vehicles compared to conventional rallying, all participants use machines which are purpose-built to withstand the challenges of the Dakar Rally. Trucks, specially built off-road four-wheelers/buggies, ATVs and Motorcycles are the kind of examples which participate in the event for top honours. For motorcyclists, maintenance of your two-wheeler is essential.

Notorious for including stages which run in some of the most isolated locations on Earth, in 1982, Mark Thatcher, Son of the then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, along with his co-driver Anne-Charlotte Verney and their mechanic, disappeared for six days. The trio separated from a convoy of vehicles after stopping to make repairs. Declared missing, a search plane from the Algerian military spotted their vehicle some 50 kilometres off course.

Withdrawals due to excessive fatigue and life-threatening injuries are common; while there have been many unfortunate days on which participants have lost their lives. In 2009, the body of 49-year-old motorcyclist Pascal Terry from France was found in a remote part of the second stage between Santa Rosa de la Pampa and Puerto Madryn. He had been missing for three days!

As of 2011, the engine capacity limit for all motorbikes competing in the Dakar Rally has been capped at 450cc. Engines may be either single or twin cylinder. Riders are divided into two groups, “Elite” and Non-Elite, with the latter subdivided into two further groups – “Super Production” and “Marathon” classes. There are certain rules you need to follow while riding in a group to ensure everyone’s safety. India’s very own Aravind KP is busy polishing his skills in the run-up to Dakar 2018. This will be his second outing, after a heavy crash in Stage 3 of Dakar 2017 curtailed his debut and caused serious damage to his shoulder.

As Indian Motorsport fans await his return at the Dakar 2018, racing for the Sherco TVS Rally Factory team, Aravind says he is fully prepared to take on the challenges of the event this year. Aravind will be tackling some of the toughest conditions during the rally, astride an RTR 450. Powered by a 450cc, 4stroke DOHC motor, the purpose-built off-road bike is jointly developed by TVS and Sherco Motorcycles.

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