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Classic Dakar takes to the desert

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With 158 crews participating, it is clear Classic Dakar in Saudi Arabia is quickly becoming a hit. The rally ends on January 14th.

The Dakar rally has relocated to the Arabian peninsula, crisscrossing the desert in Saudi Arabia. On the one hand, you have Sébastien Loeb battling for overall victory against most notably Nasser Al-Attiyah. Meanwhile, at the back of the grid, a novel new formula is gathering ground rapidly.

708 Dindy Christiphe (fra), Bourgois Francois-Xavier (fra), Peugeot 504 Coupe V6. Photo ASO

In 2020, we saw the first tepid steps of Classic Dakar. The formula could not be simpler: with either the old rally-raid cars or with a replica, competitors followed the real rally, but on shortened stages. The second running of Dakar Classic proves the formula can grow into a big success story.

#763 Jacober Mario (swi), Miljic Sladan (swi), Niva Red Legen Team, Lada Niva. Photo ASO

The January adventure

The Dakar rally has always been a mesmerizing prospect. Created by Thierry Sabine in 1979 as an adventurous run between Paris and Dakar, the capital of Senegal, the Paris-Dakar rally quickly grew into a worldwide sporting event. Held in early January, it held the envious position of being the only top motoring event in the winter months, easily capturing tv time and global audiences. When Jacky Ickx, winner of the 1983 Paris-Dakar, convinced Porsche to take part in 1984, this opened the gates to full-on factory efforts on the legendary desert raid. Porsche, Peugeot, Citroën and Mitsubishi brought in Group B-like prototypes after Group B was banned from the rally stages after 1986.

Having lost its leader Thierry Sabine in a helicopter crash during the rally in 1986, the Dakar rally continued. As geopolitical instability made the crossing of Africa ever more difficult, the Dakar rally first moved to South Africa and has currently relocated to Saudi Arabia.

Oddballs and protos

With Dakar Classic, it is clear the spirit of the original Dakar rally is still alive with many. Looking at a Peugeot 504 Coupé and a Citroën CX manning up bravely to tackle the desert is very reminiscent of the early Dakar days where the adventurers would set off on New Years’ day in Paris, seeing how far their luck would carry them.

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726 Jacquot Philippe (fra), Alcaraz William (fra), Team 205 Africa Raid, Peugeot 205 T16. Photo ASO

Next to these 2-wheel drive beauties, some very spectacular cars from the Dakar’s history have resurfaced. One of these is the first Daf twin-cabin truck which Dutch legend Jan de Rooy used in the 1986 Dakar. The car has been painstakingly restored by his son and is now making waves in the Classic Dakar. With the car division, it’s easily Frenchman Rudy Jacquot’s Peugeot 205 T16 Grand Raid that draws all the attention. A former Peugeot team car, Jacquot’s dad Philippe was able to buy it from Peugeot’s classic department and had it restored. Philippe himself is busy trying to get a hydrogen-powered truck to the finish and has given the honour of driving this car in Classic Dakar to his son.

Stumbling at the start

Elsewhere, we see former Ralliart-man Christian Lambert putting his experience to good use. His Christian Lambert Classic structure fields an impressive list of Mitsubishi Pajeros, one of which is being driven by former 2-star Michelin chef Jean-Paul Lacombe. At 72, Lacombe takes part in his first Dakar. Lambert himself is co-driver on a former Fonteny Pajero prototype, driven by paraplegic driver Vincent Tourneur.

#714 Tourner Vincent (fra), Lambert Christian (fra), Ralliart Off Road Classic, Mitsubishi Pajero T2. Photo ASO

The start of Classic Dakar has already brought its fair share of drama, with the second day having been cancelled due to apocalyptical weather. For day three, the roadbook has been changed as well. You can follow the Dakar rally and Classic Dakar here.

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