When I was about eight years old I distinctly remember getting a present that opened my eyes to a whole new world. The present was a Peugeot 205 T16 Dakar rally car toy and It started a love affair with the planet's most extreme cross country, nay, cross continental driving competition.
Bikes, trucks, 4x4s and cars would smash their way from Paris to Dakar in Senegal and it was mental. I loved it. There was a real sense of good old fashioned motorsport, adventure and driving magic that surrounded the entire competition that I still find romantically intoxicating.
And it is easy to see why when you look at the types of vehicles that have taken part over the years. Add to that the list of legendary drivers that have taken part, it really is one of the planets premier racing competitions. The beauty was however that you would see Honda's prepared by a bloke called Dave in the back of his garage racing against a modified Rolls Royce....I'm not kidding. Cars that would never EVER meet in any competition anywhere else would share a "grid" sheet and I loved it.
The competition has been going since 1977 and pushes man and machine to their limits. Dakar started as an endurance race, mainly for enthusiasts but as it entered the 1980s, things went up a level. Manufacturers started to get heavily involved entering factory teams to chase the Title and thus proving that their brand was fast, tough and capable of taking an owner on a crazy trans African adventure. It saw the birth of some truly iconic cars and saw Peugeot, Renault, Citroen and Mitsubishi impress in the desert.
Over the years the competition changed route and in 1997 it was held exclusively in Africa for the first time and throughout the late 90s and early 00s cities like Granada and Lisbon shared the honour of being the start of this famous journey. Finally in 2001, we saw the last race of the traditional route starting in Paris and finishing in Dakar.
Things changed in 2008. The rally for that year was cancelled due to the increasing security concerns in the region and when it returned in 2009, it was to a completely new continent. The rally is now held in South America, taking competitors down the spine of the huge, beautiful expanses of Peru, Bolivia and Argentina.
The Dakar rally is one of the ultimate human endurance activities on the planet and I for one will be cheering on the Brits, Sam Sunderland of KTM in the Bikes category and John Cockburn of PH Sport in the Truck race. It's going to be gruelling few weeks for all the competitors and of course we wish everyone luck. You must check out www.dakar.com and see the full list of drivers and vehicles taking part, it's an exciting list with the likes of Sebastian Loeb in the line up!
As my love affair with the history, innovation and pure madness of the Dakar continues, I hope that we all spend just a bit of time this January falling in love with this classic race all over again.