This year’s 35th Dakar Rally has been regarded as one of the toughest yet, with just 78 motorcycles making it to the finishing line. Competitors started in Rosaria, Argentina, where they set off on a 10,000km journey to Valparaiso in Chile. Riders had to complete 13 different stages during the Rally, covering mountainous terrain and desert in what is one of motorsport’s most gruelling endurance events.
Despite finishing 18th in the final stage, Spaniard Marc Coma grabbed the overall title in the motorbike category, riding for the KTM Red Bull Rally Factory Team on a KTM 450cc Rally. This was Coma’s fourth win at the event, finishing just under two hours ahead of his team-mate runner up, Jordi Viladoms.
At the start of the race, things were looking promising for Honda’s Joan Barreda, who took lead in both the first and third stages. Barreda was 13 minutes in front of last year’s champion, Cyril Despres, at the end of the third leg, but navigation issues in the fourth stage set him back. With Despres loosing 28 minutes due to engine failure and Barreda being knocked from the top spot after losing 41 minutes due to further navigation problems, Coma had a great advantage over both riders and soon managed to take lead.
Commenting on his victory in an interview with Red Bull, Coma admitted that it wasn’t easy, saying that “the first week of the race it was like hell.” He added that he has “never found any Dakar easy, but for bikers this year has been crazy.” Coma is happier than ever to take the title home, saying that “since 2011 I had been unable to win, so right now is time to celebrate and enjoy.”
This year’s Rally was said to be one of the toughest yet by many; by the 6th stage, around 70 riders quit following a 991km marathon stage from Chilecito to Tucuman, which was the longest stage since the 2006 Rally. A total of 216 vehicles left the race before reaching the finishing line, meaning that just 47% of the starting total continued through to the end.
There are several reasons behind people labelling this year’s Rally the toughest of all time: longer stages, unbearably hot temperatures and heavy rains altering the trails before the Rosario race resulted in a significant number of withdrawals, including from motorsport greats Francisco Lopez and Sam Sunderland.
But, as sporting director of the event David Castera said, “If everybody finished the race, it wouldn’t be the Dakar.” People are aware of the gruelling nature of the event, and understand the challenges they are set to face; sometimes, that’s the fun of it. Withdrawals, Castera added, “are part of the race.”
According to the facts and figures, though, it still seems that the toughest Dakar Rally of all time was the Paris-Algeria-Dakar Rally, which took place in 1986. Only 100 competitors finished out of the 486 who signed up, recording the highest ever dropout rate at 79%. The distance covered by the 100 finishers was also a record-topper, at 15,000km. The 1986 Rally is renowned for also being the most fatal. Seven people died during the race, including the creator of the event, Thierry Sabine, who lost his life in a tragic helicopter accident.
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