How the Dakar Rally Works

Tough Terrain

The Dakar is not your grandfather's motor sport rally. Nearly 500 racers from more than 50 countries compete each year in the 14-stage race. Billed as the most dangerous race in the world, 59 people have died either participating or watching as spectators. In 2010, a woman in Argentina died after being struck by a vehicle that veered off course. She was one of more than 20 race fans who have been killed over the years [source: CNN]. In 2012, Jorge Martinez Boero, an Argentinean rider, died on the first day of the event after he suffered a heart attack after falling off his bike [source:].

What makes Dakar so dangerous? The rally pits drivers not only against one another, but also against some of the most extreme terrain in the world. While the biggest challenge in Africa was its deserts, South America has many more obstacles. The 8,000-mile (12,875-kilometer) race winds through Argentina, Chile and Peru.

The race is composed of three groups of modified vehicles including motorcycles, quads, cars (which include dune buggies and SUVs) and trucks. Drivers must complete every stage in their class. During each leg, competitors must follow a specific route using a map. Drivers have to find their own way. In the end, everyone is supposed to end up at the same place, but people often get lost [source:].

Competitors must withdraw from the race if their vehicles are damaged beyond repair. They must also withdraw if they are seriously injured. Marcos Patronelli, an Argentine quad A.T.V. racer who won his class in 2010, withdrew early in 2011 after a previous injury became too much for him to handle [source: Schultz].