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Sunday, January 29, 2023

Editor without filter – The great reconciliation with the Dakar?

Beyond their journalistic rigor and their point of view as automobile professionals, the members of the editorial staff are above all motorists and ordinary citizens. In « Editors without filters », it is the heart that speaks above all! Today, Alain Devos explains why he changed his mind about the famous Dakar rally-raid.

>> Read also – All the topics of the Editors without filter

Those who know me a little know that I am a big fan of motorsport. So much so that sometimes I even started to consider it a kind of addiction myself. Thankfully, the days of watching up to half a dozen races on TV in a weekend are over. Formula 1, WEC, DTM, Nascar and, via an internet subscription, the occasional rally… in three days. With good planning, I really managed to do it sometimes.

But of course, that didn’t make it any less crazy, quite the contrary. In the meantime, I have already partially got rid of this habit, even without having to go to therapy for it. Although I still barricade the front door (against unexpected visitors) when there is an F1 race on Sunday. Anyway, if no one tells me the result, I can now watch it « delayed ».

Indy 500 or Pikes Peak?

I try to attend at least one local Grand Prix every year, occasionally race the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and still enjoy the fond memories of the Nascar and IndyCar cars I’ve seen and heard racing on American circuits. The highlight being my very first Indy 500.

However, the legendary International Hill Climb at Pikes Peak in Colorado, especially for American car enthusiasts, also has a nice setting on the wall of my great motorsport memorabilia.

Moral considerations

Strangely, the Dakar, which was surely one of the most important events on the motorsport calendar during its African heyday, rarely, if ever, captivated me. From a distance, it often looked more like a navigational exercise than a real car race. And the race has also taken far too many lives in its 44 years of existence, among the participants and even the public.

The 2023 edition, due to the « error » of a spectator who perhaps took too many risks and died precisely for this reason, was unfortunately no exception. Africa has not been visited since 2009 and, after ten editions in South America, the Dakar has been contested in Saudi Arabia since 2020.

With, again, some moral reservations, but of course you have to have them for any football championship or cycle race in which dubious regimes want to « show their best face in the world ».

The great adventure

So I flipped that switch when my curiosity got the better of my doubts and flew to the capital Riyadh in early January to spend a few days in the Dakar. Of course, it is not a question of becoming completely impregnated with it; it probably only works if you take part in it yourself.

But between two days of real rallying in the desert, I especially immersed myself in the presumed sensations of the ‘real’ Dakar during the rest day. I spent it in the camp just outside the capital, Riyadh, which covers 24 football pitches and is home to some 3,500 drivers, mechanics and a host of other attendants during the race.

The enthusiasm of the people who have traveled with us, often in very primitive conditions, has proven to be particularly infectious. From the simple amateur to multiple winners, no one feels too good to ask for a repair or chat with a Dakar journalist.

Respect and nothing else

The 2023 edition was very difficult, as we mentioned. Because of the route, but especially because of the (unexpected) rain and the cold. Bikers who only sleep a few hours a night or truckers who spend 48 hours in a row in the middle of…nowhere tinkering with their broken down car, these are perhaps the true heroes of the Dakar. And no matter what difficulties they’re having, they’ve all decided they want to compete again next year.

I still don’t think it’s a real motorsport, but it’s one more adventure. And in the real glory days of the Dakar in Africa, it will undoubtedly have been even more so. In fact, in retrospect, it’s a shame I turned a deaf ear at the time. Only idiots never change their mind, as the saying goes. So I agree, I’m not an idiot!

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