Dakar Rally Crosses Finish Line in Buenos Aires

Two-week endurance race through Argentina, Chile, and Bolivia, overshadowed by death of driver

By Anadolu Agency Jan 17

The 2015 Dakar Rally, the world’s toughest off-road race, finished in Buenos Aires Saturday, after thundering 5,592 miles (9,000 km) across South America.

Just 216 of the 420 vehicles – ranging from specialized cars to quad bikes – braved rugged terrain and extreme weather conditions to reach the Argentine capital, from where the 37th edition began Jan. 3.

Riders crossed huge sand dunes in Argentina, precipitous mountain passes in the Chilean Andes to the halfway port city of Iquique, before traversing Bolivia’s mirror-like Salar de Uyuni salt flats at 2.3 miles (3,650 meters) above sea level on the way to the Atlantic finish.

But tragedy struck during the third stage of the 13-stage race when motorbike rider, Michal Hernik, died of hyperthermia and dehydration 8 miles (14 kilometers) before end of the 137-mile (220-kilometer) segment in northwestern Argentina.

The polish driver, riding his first Dakar and in 84th place, was found with no damage to his body or bike, said race director Etienne Lavigne, while his helmet was removed prior to his death, CNN reported.

Hernik’s death was the first of a rider since 2009. A total of 67 riders and spectators have died in accidents in its history.

Dakar Rally's 2015 route goes coast coast (photo: www.dakar.com)
Dakar Rally’s 2015 route goes coast coast (photo: http://www.dakar.com)

In a balmy Buenos Aires, in stark contrast to the cold, thick fog and torrential rain in previous stages, winners in the four race categories ascended the podium.

Marc Coma clinched his fifth victory in the bike category, putting the Spaniard one triumph away from equaling the record set by France’s Stephane Peterhansel.

Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah romped to his second victory in the car category after dominating the rally from start to finish.

Ayrat Mardeev from Russia won in the truck category by 13 minutes, after dueling throughout the race with fellow countryman Eduard Nikolaev.

And Poland’s Rafal Sonic earned his first Dakar on the quadbike following five prior top-five finishes.

The annual event, formerly known as the Paris-Dakar rally, has been held in South America since 2009, after security concerns in Mauritania in Western Africa led to the race’s cancelation the previous year.

Prior to that, most events set off from Paris to the Senagalese capital of Dakar since its inception in 1978.

The grueling test of stamina mixes sprint and marathon stages, where drivers are barred from technical assistance and spend nights in bivouacs.

Race founder Thierry Sabine of France had the initial idea, after getting lost in the southcentral Sahara desert during the Abidjan-Nice rally in 1977.

Peru has also twice hosted the rally, with Ecuador and Colombia touted as future destinations after race director Lavigne told reporters the countries had expressed interest.

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