When began Paris-Dakar race : the first edition started at the end of 1978 but the history born in 1977, when Thierry Sabine got lost on his motorbike in the Libyan desert during the Abidjan-Nice Rally. Saved from the sands in extremis, he returned to France still in thrall to this landscape and promising himself, he would share his fascination with as many people as possible. He proceeded to come up with a route starting in Europe, continuing to Algiers and crossing Agadez before eventually finishing at Dakar. The founder coined a motto for his inspiration: "A challenge for those who go. A dream for those who stay behind." Courtesy of his great conviction and that modicum of madness peculiar to all great ideas, the plan quickly became a reality. Since then, the Paris-Dakar, a unique event sparked by the spirit of adventure, open to all riders and carrying a message of friendship between all men, has never failed to challenge surprise and excite. Over the course of almost thirty years, it has generated innumerable sporting and human stories.

On 26 December 1978, the Place du Trocadéro witnessed the first send-off of the Paris-Dakar rally. One hundred-seventy competitors had to cross 10,000 kilometers on the off road track of Algeria, Niger, Mali, Upper Volta and Senegal.

The first motorcycle winner was a young man named Cyril Neveu (Yamaha). Still an unknown, he would go on to run up a stream of impressive sports achievements. His unsentimental analysis makes one smile considering all the accomplishments he would eventually make: “I was 21 years old and I had already experienced Africa during the Abidjan-Nice rally. I was just like everyone else, a simple guy grabbing onto the handlebars of his 500 XT. Without any leather satchels...”

The first car team was a Range Rover V8 driven by Genestier, Terbiaut and Lemordant which finished in fourth overall place. .


Despite only winning one of the eight stages the Range Rover of Alain Génestier, Joseph Terbiaut and Jean Lemordant came first in the cars category, finishing fourth overall behind three motorcycles, and ahead of the Renault 4 of the Marreau brothers.

Early in the rally, it had looked like there could be a car-motorcycle Neveu lockout, when motorcycle class winner, Cyril Neveu's, brother Christophe, won two of the first three stages (also in a Range Rover). However, Christophe was among a quarter of competitors who got lost on stage three between Arlit and Agadez, relinquishing his lead.

With no big budget factory teams involved in those early years of Dakar, the vehicles were often old and only lightly modified in order to be able to survive thousands of kilometres off-road.

Alain Génestier’s Range Rover V8 was as unremarkable as it was successful. Funded by Joseph Terbiaut, No.162 was bought second hand in France and prepared by Génestier’s long-time copilot, Jean Lemordant, a Parisian mechanic and Mini Austin specialist. The preparation was simple, comprising the installation of three racing seats, adding a supplementary fuel tank and a front winch, which was reportedly never used. While the V8 received no engine or power modifications, the only chassis reinforcement was to the front steering dampers.

1980 - 1990

The Paris-Dakar rapidly won over the public, fascinated by these ordinary adventurers defying the desert with limited resources. Yamahas and Hondas "cobbled together at the back of the garage" rubbed shoulders with Thierry de Montcorgé's Rolls-Royce and the Citroen CX of the F1 driver Jacky Ickx, accompanied by Claude Brasseur. Hubert Auriol, already nicknamed "the African", won his first Dakar.

The first visit to the Tenere desert was in 1983 and was incredible. The competitors found themselves plunged into an interminable sandstorm which caused no less than 40 drivers to lose their bearings. Those who strayed furthest had to spend as much as four days getting back on course. The legend of the Dakar was underway.

In 1986 Thierry Sabine, French singer Daniel Balavoine, journalist Nathaly Odent, pilot François Xavier-Bagnoud and radio technician Jean-Paul Le Fur all met their deaths in a helicopter accident. Thierry Sabine's ashes were scattered in the desert and his father Gilbert, aided by Patrick Verdoy, took over the helm. The race went on but no one's heart was really in it.

In 1988 over 600 vehicles started out from Versailles. Peugeot, which had made a successful debut the previous year, set out to defend its title. But Ari Vatanen, having led the rally at Bamako, was at the centre of a shock when his 405 Turbo 16 was stolen and then found too late to continue. The lion brand triumphed nevertheless, courtesy of his compatriot Juha Kankunnen.


In 1991 a young motorcyclist sporting a blue bandana, first seen on the rally three years earlier, rode his Yamaha to victory: the Stéphane Peterhansel era had begun. On four wheels, meanwhile, the Finn Ari Vatanen clocked up his fourth title in the category, a record that still stands today.

1992 was a special edition, a crossing of the African continent, from the north to the southernmost tip, was the task facing the competitors. The Paris - Cape rally comprised 22 stages and passed through 10 countries on a route stretching 12,427 km! Hubert Auriol won with navigator Philippe Monnet to become the first driver to claim victory in both the bike and car categories.

For the first time in 1995 , the start did not take place in France, but at Grenada in Spain. Hubert Auriol became the boss of the Dakar on the ground, where he witnessed another fine performance from Stéphane Peterhansel in recording a third successive victory.

New century and Dakar opted for a route with an eternal flavour: start in Dakar and the finish was at the foot of the Gizeh Pyramids, in Cairo. Jean-Louis Schlesser, who remains the only person towin the Dakar on a buggy, retained his title, as did Richard Sainct in the bike category.


In 2001 first woman to win the car race, Jutta Kleinschmidt, first seen in the Dakar thirteen years earlier on a bike, had already become the first female stage winner in 1998 in a Schlesser buggy. This year, she became the first woman to win the overall event, this time at the wheel of a Mitsubishi.

In 2005 the motorcyclist Cyril Despres dedicated his victory to Richard Sainct, who had died a few weeks earlier during the Pharaohs Rally, and to Fabrizio Meoni. His two team-mates at KTM paid for their passion for the desert with their lives.

In 2007 was the last edition in Africa with 231 bikers, 14 quads, 181 teams in cars and 85 trucks lined up at the start in Lisbon. At the finish, the all-terrain action hero Stéphane Peterhansel took his total number of Dakar victories to nine. After six wins on a bike, he proceeded to show similar dominance on four wheels, outdoing not only his team-mate Luc Alphand but also his Volkswagen rivals, Carlos Sainz and Giniel De Villiers.





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