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The Dakar Rally (or simply "The Dakar"; formerly known as "The Paris-Dakar" or "Paris to Dakar Rally") is an annual rally raid type of off-road automobile race, organised by the Amaury Sport Organisation. Most events since the inception in 1978 were from Paris in France to Dakar in Senegal, but due to political instability in Africa, the 2009 Dakar Rally was run in South America, the first time the race took place outside of Europe and Africa. It will return to South America in 2010. The race is open to amateur and professional entries. Amateurs typically make up about eighty percent of the participants.
Despite its name it is an off-road endurance race, called a rally-raid rather than a conventional rally — the terrain the competitors traverse is much tougher and the vehicles used are true off-road vehicles rather than the modified sedans used in rallies. Most of the competitive special sections are off-road, crossing dunes, mud, camel grass, rocks and erg among others. The distances of each stage covered vary from short distances up to 800–900 kilometres (500–560 mi) per day.
The race originated in 1978, a year after racer Thierry Sabine got lost in the desert and decided that it would be a good location for a regular rally. Originally, the rally was from Paris, France to Dakar, Senegal, interrupted by a transfer across the Mediterranean. However, due to politics and other factors, the course, including origin and destination, has varied over the years. Dakar has been the destination city on all but four occasions. The rally began at Paris each year until 1995. In 1994 the rally both began and ended in Paris, but due to complaints by the mayor, the finish had to be moved from the Champs-Élysées to Euro Disney. This also caused the organisation to lay out the rally through different locations in following years.
Complete list of routes
1992: Paris–Cape Town
2003: Marseille–Sharm el-Sheikh
2009: Buenos Aires–Valparaíso–Buenos Aires
2010: Buenos Aires-Antofagasta-Buenos Aires
Recent rallies pass through Morocco, Western Sahara and on to the grasslands and deserts of Mauritania. The segments running through Atar and the sand dunes and canyons of Mauritania's Adrar Region may be the most challenging in all off-road racing.
In 1992, Hubert Auriol won the Dakar in an automobile after having previously won the motorcycle competition on two occasions, making him the first driver to win on both two and four wheels. Later on, Stéphane Peterhansel managed to do the same. In 2001, Jutta Kleinschmidt was the first woman to win the Dakar, driving a Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero, co-driving with fellow German Andreas Schulz. In 2006, Patsy Quick became the first British woman to complete the Dakar (on a motorcycle).
The 2008 Dakar Rally was canceled on January 4, 2008 amid fears of terrorist attack(s). This caused serious doubts over the future of the rally. Various newspapers in Africa called the cancellation a "death sentence" for the race. Chile and Argentina, in South America, offered their territory to host the event, as well as the Czech Republic, or Hungary in Central Europe. The ASO finally decided to establish the Dakar Series competition, whose first event was the 2008 Central Europe Rally (Hungary-Romania), between April 20 and April 26, 2008. The 2009 event was organized in the two South American countries, between January 3 and January 18, 2009. The competition will return to South America in 2010.
 Vehicles and classes
The three major competitive groups in the Dakar are the bike class, the car class, which ranges from buggies to small SUVs, and the T4 truck class. Many vehicle manufacturers exploit the harsh environment the rally offers as a testing ground, and consequently to demonstrate the durability of their vehicles, although most vehicles are heavily modified or purpose built.
 Moto class
The Moto class is divided between three groups. Group 1 is Marathon, which are nearly unmodified production motorcycles, subdivided between engines of greater and less than 451 cc (28 cu in). Group 2 is Super-Production bikes, which are more substantially modified than Marathon bikes, subdivided between engines of greater and less than 451 cc. Group 3 for quads, subdivided between engines of greater and less than 500 cc.
Winning motorcycles include those made by KTM, Yamaha and BMW.
 Car class—T1, T2 and Open
The car class is made up of vehicles weighing less than 3,500 kg (7,716 lb) and subdivided into several categories. The T1 Group is made up of Improved Cross Country Vehicles and the T2 Group is made up of Cross Country Series Production vehicles. The Open class accepts weight-qualifying vehicles such as SCORE International trucks.
Originally, European utility vehicles like the Renault 4, Land Rover, Range Rover, Mercedes-Benz G, Volkswagen Iltis and the Pinzgauer, as well the Japanese Toyota Land Cruiser, dominated the race. Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero is the most successful model in race history, including 7 years straight (2001-2007). Other manufacturers have entered heavily modified street vehicles such as Rolls-Royce, Citroën, Peugeot (405 T16 and 205 T16) and Porsche.
In 2003 prominent examples in the Car Class included the Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero, the Volkswagen Race Touareg, the Bowler Wildcat 200 and the Nissan Navara.
Mercedes Benz M, BMW X5 and BMW X3. Hummer H1 and Hummer H3 sport-utilities were represented but did not appear in the leader positions.
Jean-Louis Schlesser built a series of custom dune buggy vehicles for the race and has won with them several times. American ("Baja") style pro trucks have also made appearances but they have seldom won. At present the main competitors in the car class are Mitsubishi, Volkswagen and BMW.
Truck class—T4 and T5
The stages of Lisbon–Dakar 2006The Truck class, also known as "Camions" or "Lorries", is made up of vehicles weighing more than 3,500 kg (7,716 lb). They are divided into two groups, T4 and T5.
T4 class trucks participate in the competition, while T5 trucks travel from bivouac to bivouac to support the competition vehicles. T4 trucks may provide assistance during the special stages but must be homologated vehicles. The T4.1 class covers production trucks, and the T4.2 class covers modified trucks.
T5 vehicles do not have to be homologated.
The T4 class has been composed of vehicles manufactured by Tatra, LIAZ, Kamaz, Hino, MAN, DAF, Mercedes-Benz Unimog, Renault Kerax, SCANIA, IVECO, and GINAF. In the 1980s, a strong rivalry between DAF and Mercedes-Benz led to vehicles which had twin engines and more than 1000 hp (750 kW). Later Tatra, and Kamaz took the race up. After 2000, renewed competition started in the truck class between DAF, Tatra, Mercedes-Benz and Kamaz.
The race has been subject to criticism from several sources, generally focusing on the race's impact on the inhabitants of the countries through which it passes. The environmental impact of the race has been another issue. This rejection of the race is notably the topic of the song "500 connards sur la ligne de départ" ("500 Assholes at the Starting Line"), by French singer Renaud. According to recent figures provided by the Dakar Rally, the carbon emissions of the two week race are approximately equivalent to a Formula One race.
The rally was criticised for crossing through the disputed, non-decolonized territory of Western Sahara, without consulting the Polisario Front, which is considered representative of the Sahrawi people. After the race officials began asking for formal permission from the Polisario from 2000 onwards, this has not been an issue.
After the 1988 race, when three Africans were killed in collisions with vehicles involved in the race, PANA, a Dakar-based news agency, wrote that the deaths were "insignificant for the [race's] organizers". The Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano called the race a "vulgar display of power and wealth in places where men continue to die from hunger and thirst." During a 2002 protest at the race's start in Arras, France, a Green Party of France statement described the race as "colonialism that needs to be eradicated".
Some residents along the race's course have said they see limited benefits from the race; that race participants spend little money on the goods and services local residents can offer. The racers produce substantial amounts of dust along the course, and are blamed for hitting and killing livestock, in addition to occasionally injuring or killing people.
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