Raphael Sperrer, Harmen Scholtalbers and team Fast & Speed very disappointed by official cancellation of 2008 Dakar race.
This year's Dakar Rally has been cancelled because security concerns. Today in Lisbon, one day prior to the start, A.S.O. (Amaury Sport Organisation), officially cancelled the 30th edition of the Lisbon-Dakar Rallye.
Although Dakar Rally director Etienne Lavigne has met with Mauritanian and French officials and obtained guarantees of increased security along this year's route, Lavigne announced today that the rallye was officially cancelled, stating "A.S.O.'s first responsibility is to guarantee the safety of everyone including that of the populations in the countries visited, of the amateur and professional competitors in the event, of the technical assistance personnel, and of the journalists, partners and rally collaborators. A.S.O. therefore reaffirms that the choice of security is not, has never been, and will never be a subject of compromise at the heart of the Dakar rally".
For Raphael Sperrer, the only Austrian competitor, with buggy no. 336, his Dutch Co-driver Harmen Scholtalbers, and the entire Team Fast & Speed like for all other competitors there is no other choice than returning home.
Raphael Sperrer: "I feel numb. The announcement of the cancellation of the 30th Dakar rallye is a disaster and for us all very disappointing, but safety of the participants is a priority. I respect the courageous decision of the ASO organisation . Indeed, no other decision but the cancellation of the sporting event could have been taken by A.S.O.
Their decision was taken after different exchanges with the French government - in particular the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Based on their firm recommendations, the organisers of the Dakar have taken the decision to cancel the 2008 edition of the rally, scheduled from the 5th to the 20th of January between Lisbon and Senegal's capital. It is a serious decision based on the current international political tension and the murder of four French tourists on the 28th of December which was linked to a branch of Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb, but also mainly because of the threats launched directly against the race by certain terrorist groups."
Raphael added: "It is certainly a first in the history of the Dakar rallye even if the long established competition has already paid a high toll on accidents and incidents over the years. As for me, this edition was supposed to be my third participation in the Dakar driving the "Fast and Speed" buggy nr 336; it would have been fantastic for me to have seen it become a good race for me and my codriver Harmen Scholtalbers as well as my team," said the Austrian driver. We worked so much during months of preparation with the team and my sponsors. I want to thank them for their assistance and trust. We could have made it really happen. Everything was ready.
Furthermore I was in top shape because of intensive training in difficult conditions. It will be extremely difficult to convert all this effort. But beyond our huge disappointment we must respect the decision of the ASO organizers. I am hugely frustrated, disappointed, and can already measure the economical consequences in terms of direct and indirect repercussions for my sponsors and partners. Beyond this situation we will continue to defend the major values of great sporting events and will carry on my sporting and racing engagement."
A number of threats have already been launched against the Dakar competition in the past:
1991 - Paris Dakar - 9th stage between Tillia and Gao when Charles Cabannes one of the Citroen assistance driver was shot as he was crossing a village. Consequently the two next stages had been suspended. The attacker was never found.
1992 - Paris Le Cap Tchad rebels where blackmailing the rallye and the 7th stage between NGuimi and NDjamena was cancelled and the race continued under protection of the French army.
1993 - The Algerian leg was dropped because of terrorist threats.
1996 - Grenada-Dakar the Morocco stage between Foum El Hassman and Smara one of the competitors trucks hit a land mine (a remnant of the Polisario conflict). His Mercedes truck exploded.
1997 - Prior to the rallye start, Touaregs shot two people and the organisers canceled the Gao-Tahoua stage and changed it to Gao Menaka.
2000 - Dakar-Cairo - In Niger because of terrorist threats, the organizers suspended the race during five whole days. and flew everyone to the next stage on an Antonov 124 to allow the continuation of the competition.
2004 - Clermont Ferrand-Dakar Threats in Nema (Mali) cause two stages to be cancelled; car and truck participants were accompanied under military escort to Dioulasso to continue. The bikers went by plane.
2007 - Lisbon-Dakar - Al-Qaeda threat in Mali brought about cancellation of the stages between Nema and Timbuktu.
The 2008 edition (30th) of the rally set a benchmark for the number of registered entrants with 551 vehicles - a record with around 227 motorbikes, 204 cars, 98 trucks and 22 quads. Overall around 50 nationalities were represented including Austria, China, Spain, Portugal, USA, Hungary, Japan, Netherlands, Russia plus FSU with 70% international contestants compared to only 30% French participants.
It should be stress that no matter safety precautions taken by race organisers the rallye has always had accidents and fatalities. For example, the 2007 Dakar Rallye was marred by the deaths of South African Elmer Symons and Frenchman Eric Aubijoux who were the latest victims of this endurance and navigation race which has known a competitor death count approaching 50 persons since its inception in 1979.