Senegal still motorsport fans' favorite even after relocated Dakar Rally

West African country famous for Dakar Rally that moved to S. America in 2009 but it holds rallies, motorbike races for around 45 years

Fatma Esma Arslan  | 17.01.2024 - Update : 17.01.2024
Senegal still motorsport fans' favorite even after relocated Dakar Rally Motorcycle compete during the 2024 Africa Eco Race at Lake Retba in Dakar, Senegal on January14, 2024. ( Cem Ozdel - Anadolu Agency )

By Fatma Esma Arslan


West African country Senegal remains one of the important routes for motorsports and has been fans' favorite for years, even though the famous Dakar Rally moved from Africa in 2009.

The country that enjoys political and economic stability in West Africa is considered one of the main stops for rallies and motorbike events with its almost 720 kilometers (447.3 miles) of coastline and dunes.

Although Senegal is best known for the Dakar Rally for motorsport fans, which was inaugurated in 1978, the country has been on the route of many other automobile and motorcycle races for around 45 years.

The Dakar Rally, an annual rally raid, was originally held between Paris and Dakar. However, the 2008 rally in Mauritania was canceled for terrorist threats, and the sporting contest was relocated then.

The contests from 2009 to 2019 were held in South America. The Dakar Rally has been held in Saudi Arabia since 2020, and the ongoing 2024 rally will end on Jan. 19 with Stage 12 in Yanbu.

Thanks to the Dakar Rally's fame, Senegal organizes yearly international races, such as the Africa Eco Race, Real Way To Dakar, Budapest-Bamako or the Great African Run, and Circuit de Dakar-Baobabs.

In addition, Senegal hosts "Trophee Mousso," where only female drivers race, and Lac Rose (the Pink Lake) Motocross Championship, an international competition.

The "London-Dakar, Dakar Enduro" rally in the classic category, which is not held every year, also attracts the attention of fans with its 22-day long route.

Although the starting points of the races change, almost all end at Lac Rose, 35 kilometers from Dakar, where the legendary Dakar Rally's final took place.

- French racer lost in desert to create Dakar Rally

The famed Dakar Rally originated in 1977 as French wrangler and motorcycle racer Thierry Sabine got lost in a Libyan desert during the Abidjan-Nice Race.

Sabine was alone in the desert for days and decided to create an off-road endurance competition formerly named the Paris-Dakar Rally.

On Dec. 26, 1978, the rally, including 182 vehicles, started at Paris' Trocadero square and ended in Dakar on Jan. 14, 1979. Only 74 vehicles reached the Senegalese capital after completing a 10,000-kilometer (6,213-mile) track.

Sabine, the founder and main organizer of the Dakar Rally, was killed in a helicopter crash on Jan. 14, 1986.

The helicopter carrying Sabine, French singer Daniel Balavoine and three others crashed into a dune in Mali during a sandstorm.

Sabine was 36.

- Environment-friendly Africa Eco Race

The Africa Eco Race was launched after the cancellation of the 2008 Dakar Rally as it was relocated to South America first.

The environment-friendly Africa Eco Race was founded by famous racers Jean-Louis Schlesser and Rene Metge.

Adopted the principles of sustainability and zero-emission, the Africa Eco Race, founded with the "In the footsteps of Thierry Sabine" motto, started in Marseille in Dec. 2008.

The race's starting point changed some years ago, but the finish line was still the same: Dakar.

The race starts in Europe. Then, the competitors should go through Morocco and Mauritania to reach Senegal's Lac Rose, where the Africa Eco Race ends. The Lac Rose was also the end of the Dakar Rally.

The Africa Eco Race has 12 stages as the racers compete to complete the 6,000-kilometer track in 15 days. There are two main categories: motorbikes and cars. But trucks, classic cars and bikes can also join it, and they have their categories each.

- 'Africa waiting for talented Turkish drivers'

Senegal Moto Verte Technical Director Alain Verpoest told Anadolu Agency in Senegal that the Africa Eco Race keeps the spirit of the Dakar Rally alive.

Verpoest stated that the Africa Eco Race is more accessible to amateurs than the Dakar Rally, which follows almost the same route.

Emphasizing that all the participants in the race establish special bonds with Africa, Verpoest said, "All the drivers, without exception, love Africa. Even though the road is difficult, they like it very much."

"There is no longer a security risk. Anyone who wishes can participate," he said.

Verpoest invited Turkish competitors to the race and said: "We would love to see Turkish teams participating in the next races. I know there are very talented Turkish rally drivers. The Africa is waiting for you."

A Japanese racer, Ai Tanaka, who participated in the motorbike category race, said she had an "amazing" time.

"Crossing deserts on a motorbike for 15 days, seeing completely different geographies, it was great, but it was also difficult," Tanaka said.

She said that it was her first rally in the desert.

"The weather was very hot, but I had an incredible experience," Tanaka added.

Having started in Monaco, the 15th Africa Eco Race was held between Dec. 30, 2023, and Jan. 14, 2024.

France's Gautier Paulin and Remi Boulanger (Cars category), Italy's Jacopo Cerutti (Bikes), Czech Republic's Tomas Tomecek (Trucks), and Jean Dagher-Hayeck and Patrick Antoniolli from France (Side-by-side vehicle) were the 2024 winners.

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