The Dakar Rally is known as one of the toughest and most dangerous off-road races in the world, and the 2014 version of the event has certainly lived up to the billing thus far.
Not only is the Dakar Rally a test of endurance, it also offers a much tougher terrain than other rallies. In addition, the event features four different types of vehicles—motorbikes, cars, quads and trucks—which are all true off-road vehicles rather than modified vehicles.
The race, which is open to both amateur and professional drivers, lasts for a total of 14 days including the rest day breaking up the competition. From former greats like founder Thierry Sabine to one of the most dominant drivers since 2005 in Cyril Despres, the rally has seen several notable drivers brave the Dakar courses.
In its sixth year since moving from Europe and Africa to South America, the race has already seen over 200 competitors drop out of the competition. After 431 participants started the 35th running of the Dakar Rally, just 229 remained by the mandatory rest day.
The rally passes through Argentina, Bolivia and Chile. After starting on Jan. 5 in Rosario, Argentina, the journey will end on Jan. 18 in Valparaiso, Chile. The entire route, which amasses over 5,200 miles, is one of the most treacherous rally courses in the world.
The race doesn't come without its dangers. The rally is commonly referred to as the "world's most dangerous race" for its rough terrains and sweltering conditions. The racers must battle through water, sand dunes, mud, camel grass and rocks. During the fifth stage, the temperatures rose to as high as 100 degrees Fahrenheit, according to news.com.au.
According to CNN, 27 competitors have died and 50 total have perished—including spectators, support crew and media—in the rally since its inception in 1978. In its history, the death of Sabine in a helicopter crash during the 1986 rally is still one of the more memorable tragedies to take place in the race.
This year's race has already claimed the lives of three individuals—one motorbike competitor and two news members—through the first seven stages.
With the race still taking place and entering its eighth stage on Monday, Jan. 13, here are the most important moments to take place in the 2014 Dakar Rally.
Information courtesy of Dakar Rally's official website.
The 35th annual Dakar Rally commenced with 431 vehicles getting the race underway on Jan. 5 in Rosario, Argentina. The vehicles included 174 motorbikes, 147 cars, 70 trucks and 40 quads. The first stage took the drivers through a water course in which fans cheered them on at the beginning of the rally.
Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli (pictured) became the youngest participant in Dakar history at 18 years old. Gonzalez has raced in other rally events, but this is his first time entering the Dakar Rally.
Through the first seven stages, five racers have won multiple events in their respective classifications.
Joan Barreda is the only driver to win three events thus far in the motorbikes. Carlos Sainz (pictured) won two stages in the cars section in the fourth and seventh stages. Sainz won the event in 2010 and followed it up with a third-place finish in 2011.
Ignacio Casale took the first and seventh stages in the quads, while Ayrat Mardeev and Gerard de Rooy have each won two events in the trucks.
Regardless of the vehicle they chose, drivers have been tested by the different terrains of this year's Dakar Rally. Female rider Camelia Liparoti (pictured) races through the third stage between San Rafael and San Juan, Argentina.
Over 200 participants have already dropped out due to either treacherous conditions, crashes or malfunctions in the rally. Paulo Goncalves (pictured) watches as his motorbike was on fire during the fifth stage of the rally.
This year's race already claimed the lives of two members of a local Argentinian news crew during the fifth stage on Thursday, Jan. 9. Those deaths were then followed by the passing of Eric Palante, a 50-year-old motorbike rider, on Friday, Jan. 10, per CNN.com.
Palante was competing in his 11th Dakar Rally, but he went missing during the fifth stage. His body was found at the 143-kilometer mark of the course that stretched from Chilecito to San Miguel de Tucuman, which was the longest stage in the rally at 911 kilometers.
The media members—20-year-old Agustin Mina and 51-year-old Daniel Ambrosio—died during the same stage.
Last year's race claimed three lives, including French motorcyclist Thomas Bourgin and two fans in separate collisions. According to CNN, 50 people have died in the rally's history.
Following the first six stages that included everything from explosions to death, the riders were able to take a full rest day in Salta, Argentina.
Following the rest day for drivers, the second half officially started in Salta, Argentina, on Sunday, Jan. 12.
Joan Barreda (pictured) claimed the seventh stage of the competition in bikes. After winning the first and third stages, Sunday marked his third stage win.
Dakar.com's Staff provides a statement from Barreda discussing his season and difficulty of the event:
I am coming into the Dakar in perfect condition with an all-new bike where we have worked on its speed and reliability. We have also worked on improving navigation. The entire team is ambitious, which is normal because we are aware of our level. The second have of the season proved this because Paulo (Goncalves) won the Morocco Rally and I won the Baja España. To win this Dakar you have to stay in contact during the first week, which doesn't usually create big gaps, then we're not really sure what to expect in Bolivia. Generally speaking I think it will be a complicated Dakar that will get harder from one stage to the next…
Following the rest day, conditions for riders remained hazardous. For Pedro Oliveira (pictured), literally getting stuck in the mud was a setback.
Cyril Despres, winner of the 2005, 2007, 2010, 2012 and 2013 rallies on motorbike, won his first stage in the competition in Day 9 of the competition. Despres (pictured) remains two hours and 23 minutes behind the leader after eight stages.
With just five stages remaining after Monday's grueling competition, the Dakar Rally moved to the final country of the race in Calama, Chile.
Just 215 participants arrived in Chile after the eighth stage of the competition. Yamaha rider Bruno Da Costa of France (pictured) crashes on his motorbike during Day 9 of the rally.
The second day in Chile marked the return of drivers battling with the sand dunes. In this photo, Joan Roma and co-pilot Michel Perin race through the dunes followed by Yamaha quad rider Sergio Lafuente of Uruguay. Roma and Perin currently lead the cars portion after the ninth stage.
With a win in Stage 9, Stephane Peterhansel and co-driver Jean Paul Cottret moved into second on the leaderboard in the cars portion. Trailing behind the aforementioned Roma and Perin by only 12:10 late in the rally.
Spaniard Joan Barreda was triumphant in the tenth stage of the bikes rally, beating out Helder Rodrigues and Cyril Despres by eight minutes. Barreda took advantage of his course position to pass six riders over the course of the stage.
It's no secret that the Dakar Rally is among the most grueling sporting events on the planet. But in addition to the many dangers competitors face, the lack of sleep is enough to ruin the experience for some, including Victor Gallegos, per Dakar.com: "The Dakar is an awesome experience, but also a terrible one. You don't get enough sleep!"
It was a triumphant day for Argentina in Stage 11, as Orlando Terranova pulled off a surprising victory to help himself in the overall race. Terranova trailed Nasser Al-Attiyah for much of the car special stage day, but rallied as the day wore on to come back for a victory.
The 34-year-old driver defeated Nani Roma by 10'57" and Stéphane Peterhansel by 14'14". That gave the MINI X-Raid Team each of the first three spots in Stage 11.
Nani Roma and Giovanni Perin still carries the lead in the overall standings. Terranova and partner Paulo Fiuza are in fourth place overall, with 01:03:39 to make up if they hope to make an improbable comeback.
Carlos Sainz, a veteran rally driver making a rare appearance in a car, crashed out during Stage 10 and was forced to withdraw from the race. The 51-year-old Spaniard was involved in a scary crash and was examined at a medical center set up at the end of Stage 10.
It was determined that he had only suffered minor injuries, but the crash rendered his SMG buggy unable to continue. Sainz was already well behind on the leaderboard and not expected to be among the top contenders.
Still, Sainz is beloved in Spain and his departure dampens the rest of the race for some fans. Los Angeles Lakers forward Pau Gasol was one of many well-wishers:
Sainz is a two-time World Rally Championship winner and he captured Dakar in 2010. He last appeared at the Rally Championship in 2005.
One of the best Dakar Rally competitors in history is about to win yet another title thanks to a win on the Stage 12 special.
Mini Motorsport provided a look at the overall leaderboard:
Stephane Peterhansel has won the last two titles and five total since 2004. This is even more impressive considering he started his career on motorbikes, winning six championships from 1991-98.
Nani Roma has remained close on his tail and only trails by 26 seconds, but Peterhansel's experience could be enough to pull out a win on the final day.
While competitors continue to drop out of the race in every other classification, those on motorbikes continue to impress with their determination.
There were 79 people at the start and at least 65 that finished Stage 12. With only one day left, you can assume that most of these athletes will finish. This is much different than the other categories, which each only have about one-third of starters remaining.
Stage 12 winner Cyril Despres discussed the latest part of the course on Dakar.com, saying, "It was a nice stage. Quite fast at the beginning, a lot of rocks also and then not that easy navigation on the last part. I'm pretty happy to navigate and I really enjoyed the day a lot, which is really important."
The fact that there are so many uplifting spirits near the end of this grueling event is quite impressive.
Of course, the race itself is likely over as Marc Coma will likely hold onto his nearly two-hour lead with one day to go.
Stephane Peterhansel took the lead heading into the final day and it seemed like he was ready to win his 12th title and third in a row. Even with only a 26-second lead, many assumed that the experienced driver would be able to pull out a win.
However, it was Nani Roma who came from behind to earn his second-career victory:
The difference was only about five minutes, which is minuscule over the course of a 50-hour race. However, Roma proved to be the best in the car category at the 2014 Dakar Rally.
Marc Coma and Cyril Despres have had a great individual rivalry over the years as one of them has one the Dakar Rally in every year since 2004. While Despres won the past two titles and earn two stage wins, Coma was the dominant competitor over the course of the race.
The Spanish competitor finished the event in 54 hours, 50 minutes and 53 seconds, which was almost two hours better than Jordi Viladoms in second place.
Despres could only manage fourth place in his attempt to defend his title.
Ignacio Casale took home the quad category in the Dakar Rally by 1:26:49 over Rafal Sonik. The 26-year-old first entered Dakar in 2010 and was in the quad event for only the second time ever.
Casale spoke about the win on Dakar's official website:
I won! I'm over the moon, I'm lost for words. It's a flood of emotions. The last 20 to 30 kilometres were amazing: the crowds, people cheering me on, banners... It hasn't sunk in yet. I didn't even think of all this a few years ago. It's a huge effort that has borne fruit.
Andrey Karginov, Andrey Mokeev and Igor Devyatkin narrowly pulled out the Dakar truck category despite a seventh-place finish in the final stage. Despite the trio of Gerard De Rooy, Tom Colsoul and Darek Rodewald winning the 12th stage and finishing second in the 13th stage, they came up just short and finished 3:11 behind Karginov.