The 2019 Dakar rally will run entirely in Peru, with no mileage in any other country.
It’s a big change for the world’s toughest rally, which used to run from Paris, France, to Dakar, Senegal. Instead of a two-week race through two continents, it’s now down to a 10-stage event over 12 days entirely in one country.
At least Peru has very decent sand dune stages, close to the traditional Dakar landscape, but aside from that, it barely resembles the original event.
At the end of the 2018 race, there was buzz that the 2019 event might also see stages in Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador and Argentina, but for one reason or another, all those countries are out of the running. Rumour has it that the ASO (organization body for Dakar) asked Chile to pay $4 million to host Dakar, and the Chileans counter-offered $2 million, which wasn’t satisfactory for the ASO.
The Bolivian population is always somewhat skeptical about government funds being spent on hosting the rally, and the Bolivian stages typically feature lousy weather and mountainous stages that pound the riders with altitude sickness, so the racers probably aren’t heartbroken that they aren’t returning.
Due to geography, a Peru-Argentina race would have been difficult to organize, as all land routes are blocked by Bolivia and Chile; organizers could have used boats to move the racers down the coast, but that likely would have proved a logistical nightmare. The word on the street also has Argentina more interested in regaining a Formula 1 race, after hosting the Dakar rally for 10 years.
So, the Dakar is down to just one country, although gossip has the ASO haggling with African countries over a possible return trip back across the Atlantic. Whether there’s any fact behind that gossip is another question entirely. The Eco race has proven to be a real-deal African alternative to the official Dakar rally for years now. And, many of the problems with terrorists that made the Dakar rally move to South America are still there.
However, something’s going to have to change. With the rally down to one country, and named after a city in another continent, there’s a danger it will become a joke, especially now that organizers have announced a “second chance” class. This new class gives racers a chance to re-enter the rally after the rest day after being knocked out by mechanicals earlier in the race. While that’s a plus for any racer who’s spent their life savings on the event and wants to complete it, there will certainly be complaints that the new rules cheapen the long-standing do-or-die tradition of Dakar.