Planning the 2008 Dakar began, rather appropriately, with a challenge; that of mapping out the route. The stages we have in mind will give competitors a path across Africa that is just as diverse but with even more of a sporty edge. This year's ...
Planning the 2008 Dakar began, rather appropriately, with a challenge; that of mapping out the route. The stages we have in mind will give competitors a path across Africa that is just as diverse but with even more of a sporty edge. This year's planned itinerary includes longer specials than in prior years; the meter was blocked at 4,300 km in 2007 due to some changes, but exceeded 4,800 km for the timed segments in 2006. Next January, competitors will embark on an almost 6,000 km road and off-road adventure. As a result, the road sections will be shorter.
Portugal - A familiar air
According to an old saying, a habit takes hold the first time. This is exactly what Dakar organisers and competitors experienced last year upon returning to Lisbon, which they had already visited in 2006. The white-walled city not only lived up to Dakar's quality standards for a host city, but also seduced Dakar participants through its people's enthusiasm. Almost a million fans lined the routes of the two 2007 specials to encourage racers headed for Africa. Their energetic spirit set them apart and sent competitors off on a wave of positive momentum.
STAGE 1 - 05/01/2008
Lisboa > Portimão
Connection: 104 km | Special: 120 km | Connection: 262 km
Total: 486 km
This year's rally opens with a completely new special -- though the title of this stage may remind certain competitors of getting stuck in the sand very early on. This time, the alternation of sandy stretches does not in any way detract from the firm character of the terrain overall. Drivers will be able to prove their trajectory skills on the most tortuous parts. A good chance for everyone to find their feet.
STAGE 2 - 06/01/2008
Portimão > Malaga
Connection: 15 km | Special: 60 km | Connection: 460 km
Total: 535 km
The special is the same as the one familiar to competitors in 2007. This terrain could lend itself to trekking or a heat of the world mountain-bike championships: welcome to the mountains! The course is tortuous, the ground quite hard. Drivers will prudently slow the pace, just in case the course may be glistening wet. One false move on this "WRC-type" route, and the drop can be a severe one. Safer to err on the slower side. After the long liaison to Malaga, tired bodies will benefit from the night of the crossing. Trucks are not required to take part on this special.
Morocco - Gateway to Africa
Morocco has always played a key role in the Dakar adventure, as it represents the gateway into Africa and the first tricky stages. Drivers must keep a sharp eye out from the start because the falls from grace can be brutal. For example, the two-time Dakar winner Hiroshi Masuoka was stopped abruptly by a serious forward barrel roll on the route between Er Rachidia and Ouarzazate in 2006 -- despite the fact that he had successfully completed the rally 11 times between 1994 and 2004! The year before, Vladimir Chagin, who seemed on track to win a record number of titles, tipped his Kamaz truck on the same path.
STAGE 3 - 07/01/2008
Nador > Er Rachidia
Connection: 182 km | Special: 372 km | Connection: 163 km
Total: 717 km
A dilettante approach to this stage just won't do! Fresh off the ferry, competitors are going to be plunged right away into the heart of the matter. Morocco traditionally offers the rally a varied terrain: already in this first African stage, there are going to be several off-road stretches. After 160 km of shared course, the motorcyclists will temporarily leave the route planned for the cars and trucks; this should limit the amount of overtaking.
STAGE 4 - 08/01/2008
Er Rachidia > Ouarzazate
Connection: 29 km | Special: 356 km | Connection: 199 km
Total : 584 km
A split route once again -- a new feature for 2008. On narrow tracks through the hills, the motorcyclists will have a chance to show off their technique that would be worthy of trials experts. Tonight will be their first bivouac without assistance (but with the Malles Motos [Bike Trunks]) in Zagora. The cars and trucks will be travelling through regions seldom visited by the Dakar and will go to the bivouac at Ouarzazate with all the assistance teams.
STAGE 5 - 09/01/2008
Ouarzazate > Guelmim
Connection: 188 km | Special: 498 km | Connection: 148 km
Total : 834 km
This stage alone represents a terrific challenge. After a really tough first part that will need a great deal of care, the next obstacle is a long passage through dunes where even the fastest can expect to take almost three-quarters of an hour. And the end of this special in particular will demand maximum alertness from all the drivers. Any who find themselves in difficulties here will feel like it's taking forever. After this special, the separations in the placings are going to be in hours.
STAGE 6 - 10/01/2008
Guelmim > Smara
Connection: 66 km | Special: 454 km | Connection: 105 km
Total : 625 km
Cameras to the ready! The competitors will be setting off along the sea-shore -- a formula that's not been used for over ten years. A guaranteed spectacle along 25 km of beach. Everyone will find something to suit them in this, the most varied special in the rally. WRC enthusiasts will be close to bliss on a recently-repaired section of the road, while the desert surfers will enjoy an off-road treat in the small dunes.
Mauritania - Full-on in the desert
The race across Mauritania is always a turning point in the Dakar. Anything can happen in the Mauritanian sand which has been welcoming the rally warmly since 1983. Amid the country's shifting landscape, both sublime and breathtaking, competitors should must forget that their main focus is navigation. Gaps between racers become measured in hours as they travel from Atar to Nouakchott, passing through Nema and Ayoun-El-Atrous, and leaders succumb to disappointments. For example, in 2004 Cyril Despres strayed off-course for an hour near Tidjikja and realised that his dreams of victory must wait for another year.
STAGE 7 - 11/01/2008
Smara > Atâr
Connection: 198 km | Special: 619 km | Connection: 12 km
Total: 829 km
Everyone had better have conserved their energy for this, the longest special in the rally, entering Mauritania. The early morning start imposed by the long pre-race liaison is only one tiny difficulty. In the middle of the special, and then again at the end of it, the drivers will have to fight it out in the heart of the dunes. Assistance vehicles will be prohibited from stopping over in Atar. So take care not to encroach into the night too much.
STAGE 8 - 12/01/2008
Atâr > Nouakchott
Connection: 44 km | Special: 450 km | Connection: 37 km
Total: 531 km
After having a taste of stones, the competitors will be eating sand, especially passing through an erg of more than respectable scale. Yet the key moment of the special will be located further on, with a pass that's tricky to find. The best navigators have their chance to shine here; the rest risk getting themselves lost if they hesitate. That's the price to be paid for a rest day.
STAGE 9 - 14/01/2008
Nouakchott > Nouhadibou
Connection: 37 km | Special: 525 km | Connection: 86 km
Total: 648 km
This resumption stage is fought out on terrain that's typically Mauritanian: 80% sand on the programme for the day. Shovels and waffle-boards will be out to do justice to the national speciality. The way competitors negotiate, and above all follow on, the dunes in this special can turn out to be a deciding factor in the hierarchy of the rally. The Dakar hasn't stopped off in Nouhadibou since 1994.
STAGE 10 - 15/01/2008
Nouhadibou > Atâr
Connection: 111 km | Special: 552 km | Connection: 22 km
Total: 685 km
To earn their second visit of the year to Atar, the competitors will be confronted by a real test in the form of a succession of stretches of camel grass and areg. Even the best sand technicians will have to show their patience. But perseverance will be rewarded by a priceless spectacle -- a majestic erg to pass through at the end of the course. A feast for the eyes -- and a trap for the unwary!
STAGE 11 - 16/01/2008
Atâr > Tidjikja
Connection: 35 km | Special: 524 km | Connection: 133 km
Total: 692 km
The ration of sand served up on the road to Tidjikja is easier to digest. And the motorcyclists will have the prospect of a rare moment of conviviality ahead at the finish, with a bivouac just for them at the end of the special, while the rest of the vehicles go on to Tidjikja. On two wheels or on four, they'll need to take care of their mechanics, as there won't be any assistance at the finish.
STAGE 12 - 17/01/2008
Tidjikja > Kiffa
Connection: 131 km | Special: 398 km | Connection: 2 km
Total: 531 km
By definition, Dakar competitors love the desert, and the sort of landscapes offered to them here are what makes them join the rally. Over a route that is largely new, they'll need to show how multi-talented they are to reach Kiffa in good condition. Certain technically challenging sections are going to oblige the leading drivers to slow the pace.
STAGE 13 - 18/01/2008
Kiffa > Kiffa
Connection: 25 km | Special: 484 km | Connection: 6 km
Total: 515 km
Now here's a high-risk loop, to which not even the leaders in the various placings will be able to feel immune. Besides passing through the last dunes of the rally, and also the climb up to the famous Nega pass, there will above all be a very long off-road stretch, essentially on terrain unknown to the faithful of the Dakar. The slightest error is likely to have serious repercussions.
STAGE 14 - 19/01/2008
Kiffa > Saint-Louis
Connection: 326 km | Special: 301 km | Connection: 130 km
Total: 757 km
This stage has to be viewed as a whole: by the evening, the vehicles will all have clocked up nearly another 800km. For the eighth and last Mauritanian special of the year, the drivers will be on sand again, but will at least be spared the vagaries of off-roading. After the long liaison to Saint-Louis, only the most senior competitors will recognize a few landmarks -- the rally hasn't stopped here since 1997.
Senegal - Crossing the line
Senegal and its emblematic capital are fundamentally associated with the largest rally in the world, the Dakar. Competitors' arrival at the finish line is synonymous with celebration and passion, and triggers the enthusiasm of the Senegalese people. And while Dakar is the ideal place to end the three-week adventure which is as challenging as it is unforgettable, the last stretch towards the finish line is not the easiest. Senegal offers a lesson in humility and patience. In 2007, Marc Coma, who had been in the lead since the first African stage, crashed after completing his first kilometers in Senegal.
STAGE 15 - 20/01/2008
Saint-Louis > Dakar
Connection: 239 km | Special: 23 km | Connection: 42 km
Total: 304 km
Whatever the objectives starting out, the blows struck by fate along the way, or the successes accumulated throughout the stages, there always comes the moment of bringing the adventure to a close. The long liaison to Dakar above all gives a chance to relish the welcome from the people of Senegal. Then it's time for all the emotion of the final run along the shores of Lake Rose, and then the prize-giving ceremony.