History of Dakar

Arguably the world’s best known rally, the Dakar started, quite literally, by accident.

The Dakar 2014 Rally will move through three countries in South America.

Arguably the world's best known rally, the Dakar started, quite literally, by accident.

Motorcycle racer Thierry Sabine was competing in a race from Abijan to Nice, when he got lost in the Tenere desert.

As he plotted his way out, it occurred to him that it was the perfect place for an endurance driving event.

Thierry Sabine, the French endurance rider who dreamed up the Dakar Rally after getting lost in the Libyan desert. Picture:AFP

A year later, in 1978, Sabine inaugurated the rally, starting in Paris in December, and making its way across wild and rough terrain to Dakar, Senegal. 170 participants started the race that year, on a route that spanned almost 10,000 km.

The inaugural event was won by Alain Genestier and co-driver Joseph Terbiaut, driving a Range Rover.

Participants in the 1980 Dakar Rally gather at the start, in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. Picture: AFP

The father of the race, Thierry Sabine was killed in Mali in 1986, along with four others, when his helicopter crashed in a sudden sandstorm over the desert.

But by then the rally was an unmissable endurance driving event, drawing competitors from all over the world.

It started as a rich man's game - a test of mettle for the wealthy. But soon, brands and manufacturers cottoned onto the value of the rally, and the importance of being associated with what was fast becoming the greatest endurance race on earth.

For years, the rally ran from Paris to Dakar, the traverse across open land, interrupted only by the crossing of the Mediterranean.

Over the years, the route has varied, mostly to avoid strife torn regions in Africa, but one year, because of a complaint by the then Mayor of Paris, who didn't want his city disrupted by hundreds of cars and bikes.

Then, in 2008, organisers decided to cancel the race, amid fears of terror attacks in Mauritania.

Many believed this would be the death knell for the event.

But a year later, it reinvented itself, on a new continent.

The 2009 edition started in the Argentinian city of Buenos Aires, and made it's way through Chile, and back.

The first running of the rally on South American soil was a particularly significant one for South Africa, with Gniel De Villiers and his German co-driver Dirk Von Zitzewitz driving to overall victory.

Dirk Von Zitzewitz and Giniel De Villiers horse around on the winners podium in Buenos Aires, at the end of the 2009 Dakar rally. Picture: AFP

Since the race moved to South America, its route has varied several times, taking in various parts of Argentina and Chile.

In 2012, Peru signed on to host part of the rally, and Bolivia will be added to the ranks of host contries in the 2014 edition.