A brief history of the world’s most adventurous race
“A challenge for those who go. A dream for those who stay behind.” Thierry Sabine, founder of the Dakar Rally.
Rally driving isn’t like other driving, or other racing, or anything really. While other racing no doubt requires intense preparation and training, rally racing demands the exact same, along with an added factor of human resourcefulness and a malleability with the natural environment. There is no venue designed for the race. No bespoke surfaces, safety barriers, or stewards in high towers. Rally racing is a battle with nature—and self—as much as it is with one's competitors. It’s a race against the terrain and human constraints.
For Dakar 2022, 430 vehicles will travers 8000+ kilometers of desert.
Racing has always been a platform for innovation and Audi’s early days in rallying reflect this, having been one of the dominant forces for performance and innovation, winning 23 world championship rounds over six years and being the first manufacturer to introduce all-wheel drive, a technical platform viewed as synonymous with rallying and driving off road.
The Dakar Rally counts five competitive groups: motorcycles, quads, cars, UTVs, and trucks. Over two weeks, they compete in their respective categories to cross some of the wildest and often unchartered terrain in racing, with little-to-no road side assistance.
Rallying offers a level of participation and immersion like no other motorsport. Driving through villages where the spectators actually live and line the paths they walk on daily just to watch—even touch—the car offers complete immersion and a spirit of adventure that spawned what we know today as the Dakar.
DISCOVER THE HISTORY OF
THE DAKAR RALLY
AN IDEA BORNE FROM FATE
After losing his way in the Ténéré desert during the "Côte-Côte" Abidjan-Nice rally, Thierry Sabine came up with the idea for a rally that tackled this demanding terrain. The Dakar Rally was borne.
While the Paris-Dakar rally would not be the first time the Sahara was traversed by automobile, the idea for it was borne from fate when Thierry Sabine got lost in the Ténéré desert whilst competing in the 1975 "Côte-Côte" Abidjan-Nice rally. Out of this experience, he decided the demanding trials the Sahara imposed upon those curious enough to brave it would be an exciting venue for a regular event. But, scour archives and very little is actually known about or recorded by Sabine. In a way, this reinforces the lore and mystique of the race as a quest shared by adventurers past, modern, and those to come.
THE INAUGURAL RACE
The inaugural running of the rally commenced on Boxing Day, 1978, from Place du Trocadéro in Paris. From here 80 cars, 90 motorcycles, and 12 trucks departed upon a 10,000-kilometer journey to the Senegalese capital of Dakar via Algeria, Niger, Mali, and Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso). Of 182 entrants only 74 finished, instantly galvanizing the spirit of endurance that defines the Dakar to this day. That same year, the Audi Sport department was set up to prepare for the new Audi’s motorsport commitments.
INTRODUCING THE AUDI QUATTRO
In 1980, the Audi quattro was the first rally car to capitalize on rule changes allowing the use of four-wheel drive in competition. Audi won consecutive competitions for the next two years and in the autumn of 1981, Michèle Mouton became the first woman in history to win a World Rally Championship round at the helm of an Audi quattro. Dominant victories and two drivers’ and manufacturers’ titles with the Ur-quattro in the World Rally Championship between 1982 and 1984 cemented Audi’s reputation for innovation and progress in racing.
AN ILL-PREPARED ENTRY
Mark Thatcher, son of the British Prime Minister, got lost in the Sahara Desert for six days causing international embarrassment.
In 1982, the Paris-Dakar race would become a household name. Mark Thatcher, son of then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher made an ill-prepared entry and got lost in the Sahara Desert for six days, causing international embarrassment to his mother who had to enlist the help of the Algerian Military to help locate him, personally contributing financially to the rescue effort—and an unpaid hotel bill. While this incident reflected the privateer spirit of the race, it illuminated the psychological strength required, beyond just the physical and engineering demands.
THE FIRST AUDI JOINS THE RACE
Audi quattros were entered the rally for the first time by three privateers—No. 199, 200, and 201.
The 1985 Paris-Dakar was the first time Audis entered the rally. Three Audi quattros—No. 199, 200, and 201—were raced by Darniche and Mahé, Lapeyre and Lourseau, and Rigal and Dery respectively. During the rally, Lourseau suffered a rear-axle failure and described the incident: “The feeling of being alone in this vastness, hoping that the sand-filled wind would not rise, was very agonizing. Unfortunately, no competitor stopped. I think everyone was afraid to leave the reassuring footsteps of the main path.” Darniche and Mahe won the Prologue, and three of the 18 rally stages, while the other two Audi entries finished 17th and 37th of 362 car entrants.
A race against terrain and human constraints.
THE FIRST WOMAN WINS
THE DAKAR RALLY
After making history as the first woman to win a stage in the Dakar in 1997, motorcyclist Jutta Kleinschmidt becomes the first woman to win the Dakar. Aside from Kleinschmidt and rally car driver Christine Beckers, who competed in the Dakar a number of times during the early ‘80s, the rally’s early years were entirely a man’s affair. This is changing, albeit slowly. In 2022, 26 of the 730 drivers and co-drivers will be women.
Due to security threats, the 2008 running was canceled. As a result of these concerns, the following year the Europe to Africa route was exchanged for South America. The new loop went from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Valparaíso, Chile, and back. South America would continue to host the Dakar for the next decade.
FROM SOUTH AMERICA
TO SAUDI ARABIA
The Dakar Rally changes continents for the second time ever, to Saudi Arabia.
In 2020, the Dakar rally changed continents for the second time in its history. Saudi Arabia became the 30th country to be visited by the rally. Over 12 days, participants raced from Jeddah and to Qiddiya, covering a total of 7,856 kilometers.
LAYING THE TRACKS FOR
A MORE SUSTAINABLE RALLY
Launched this year, “DakarFuture” is an ambitious, far-reaching energy transition programme that will be gradually introduced over the coming year. Adjustments, such as the inclusion of a new category for those racing in hybrid, electric, or hydrogen-powered vehicles will be introduced in 2022. By 2030, vehicles in all categories will aim to have low emissions competitors.
THE RS Q E-TRON
2022. Audi unveils its response to the mandate: the RS Q e-tron. Making its debut in 2022, it features a hybrid powertrain consisting of a turbocharged petrol engine derived from DTM racing and electric motors from the Audi Formula E-Car. Fourteen-time Dakar champion Stéphane Peterhansel, former FIA World Rallycross champion Mattias Ekström, and veteran driver Carlos Sainz will debut Audi’s Dakar contender.