Friday, January 19, 2007

Mad Max rally denounced

So far this year, the world’s most extreme motor race has only killed one participant. South African motorcyclist Elmer Symons, 29, was killed during the fourth stage of the Dakar Rally last week. I say only, because every year in the event’s history, drivers and local people have paid a heavy price for this long-distance endurance test since it began in 1979. This year’s rally began in Lisbon on January 6 and so far has run through Spain and Morocco to reach Mauritania and Mali. It is due to end in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, this Sunday. The route runs over 5,000 miles of rocks, sand, riverbeds and potholed roads. The real challenge to drivers are the shifting sands of the Sahara desert.

Over 500 teams from over 40 countries are taking part as the race passes over six countries. Masses of vehicles have descended on the poorest nations and peoples in the world, including 88 large trucks, 187 cars and 250 motorcycles. Over 200 supporting vehicles make up the rest of what can only be described as an obscene waste of resources and grossly polluting event.

“It isn't called an extreme race for nothing,” says photographer Alberto Arzoz, who has spent time with the native Tuareg nomadic people of the Sahara. “As you can imagine, the dark side goes under-reported.” In addition to the 41 racers killed since 1979, the rally has killed at least 17 bystanders, including eight children, as well as many livestock. It creates huge clouds of dust that affect local villages and their herds. Vehicle wrecks and dump sites along the way cause damage to the fragile ecosystem of the desert. In one incident the rally created a wildfire that derailed a train between Dakar and Bamako, killing three passengers.

Despite humanitarian claims by the organisers, the race brings little to the locals, whether the nomads or settled communities who live around its course. Arzoz believes that “the rally is an arrogant and humilliating event which regards the peoples of Africa and their environment nothing more than a playground for the motoring multinationals such as BMW or Mitsubishi to showcase their latest products.” The race has been mocked by French singer Renaud in his song, 500 connards sur la ligne de départ (500 assholes on the start line). A Green Party of France statement has described the race as “colonialism that needs to be eradicated”. Campaigners against the rally run an online petition at

This year’s sponsors and suppliers include, amongst others, oil corporations Total and Elf, French television channels, BF Goodrich, Columbia sportswear, Red Bull, and, somewhat strangely, Unique, a new brand of “natural spring water” from Croatia.

Even more bizarrely, Volkswagen’s latest four-wheel drive is named the Touareg, after a people whose traditional transport has always been the camel. VW is taking part in the race, albeit only with a 2500cc version. The 275 horsepower 5-litre 10-cylinder version is reserved for the Chelsea set.

By AWTW Transport Editor


J Baustian said...

The Dakar is a fantastic event -- a challenge for the drivers, navigators, and the support teams, and a pleasure to watch on TV. I imagine that it will continue to be run for many decades into the future. And presumably the vehicles will continue to improve as well. Most of us focus on the big factory teams (KTM in the bike class, VW and Mitsubishi and BMW in the car class), but the production vehicles are really where the Dakar helps to make roadcars better.

A World to Win said...

Transport editor replies: But aren't there less damaging ways of improving cars? I hope that many decades in the future we won't need cars but will have better, less environmentally damaging forms of transport.

J Baustian said...

How many billions of horses would we need to accomplish the work done by cars and trucks?

Anonymous said...

What and how much work done by cars and trucks do you have in mind? Is it all useful, necessary or even pleasurable? Driving, or as likely sitting still in a car for long stretches of time, to get from home to a distant place of work, or transporting tons of food from one end of the country to the other to be distributed by supermarkets on yet more fleets of trucks to yet other places, or even back to where they came from originally? Cut out all or most of that and the amount of motorised transport could then decline. Use horses/oxen for lighter and local transport needs. The dung exchanged for the non-fossil fuel fodder provided could then be recycled to grow more food/fodder ad infinitum.
I think you just want to ride your (BMW) motorcycle really, as the great Arlo Guthrie sang. All hail to Arlo Guthrie, son of Woody, but maybe even he thinks differently nowadays!


CAVAD said...

Dakar Rally 2007: 3 death

Join us, Stop the rally Dakar

Sign the petition

Collectif Actions pour les Victimes Anonymes du Dakar