WickedEye's Quotient

1/23/2008 at 22:58

France, Senegal and South America

I have bad- no, very bad and simultaneously ridiculous- news for gearheads everywhere.

First- Paris-Dakar 2008 has been canceled.

This in itself is horrible. Paris-Dakar is the world’s longest off-road rally; it usually starts in France and winds up in Senegal, and over the years it’s been run through Portugal, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Niger, Spain, Egypt, Morocco, Mauritania and the Western Sahara. This year’s rally was set to be the roughest course ever, with more than 5,700 miles of rock, riverbed, ravine and road to traverse.

More importantly, for gearheads who love to drive the Paris-Dakar is the ultimate dream- crossing desert, dune, mud flat, rock, ravine and erg in a grinding more-than-4,000-mile run at an average temperature of 130 degrees Fahrenheit.

It is the definitive test of driving and navigational skill, mechanical skill, wilderness survival skill, determination and endurance for any driving team. Only 40% of those who begin the race finish it.

And the 2008 Paris-Dakar was canceled two weeks ago due to terrorist threats from (who else?) Al-Quaeda.

That’s bad enough. Now comes the ridiculous part.

It’ll be run next year.

In South America.

Excuse me? It’s called the Paris-Dakar (or more recently the Dakar) for a reason. The race from Europe to Africa covers the most brutal terrain in the world- Mauritania’s Adrar segment chief amongst them. The course is so harsh that automakers the world over routinely test their off-road vehicles in the Paris-Dakar.

Doubtless Chile and Argentina can offer stark conditions- but they cannot match either the roughness of the past courses or the sheer romance of travel through and around some of the oldest human cities, villages, and cultures on earth.

The movement from Europe to Africa is meant to be a journey backwards in time, meant to challenge everything in its entrants, body and mind- from endurance to perception of humanity’s significance.

Moving the Paris-Dakar to South America is not only capitulation to the threats of terrorists but a willful subversion of everything that the rally stands for.

Change the course to avoid terrorist-controlled areas? Yes- though it will prove challenging and delicate, it can be done.

Move it from two continents to one- one in another hemisphere? No.

The Paris-Dakar has run for thirty years not only on the grueling, nerve-sapping challenge it presents, but also on the intrigue and fascination of the transition from new to old on a scale that maps tens of thousands of years of human existence.

Let the Paris-Dakar remain in its birthplace.

Let its entrants challenge their own beginnings and have the singular and unmatchable satisfaction of finishing their race face-to-face with the fathomless gaze of their ancient past.

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