“A challenge for those who go. A dream for those who stay behind.” – Thierry Sabine

It’s quite possibly the greatest endurance race in the history of motorsports.  Since 1979, The Dakar Rally has been the pinnacle of rallyraid.  This competition is not only notoriously difficult but extremely dangerous.  Although participants consist of the most brave and skilful drivers, lives have been lost.  Most unfortunately, the list of casualties has come to include fans, innocent passers-by and officials including Thierry Sabine.  He envisioned this race after getting lost during the Abidjan-Nice rally and rescued many lost/injured racers from his helicopter during Dakar’s early years.  Tragically, his helicopter crashed during the Paris-Algiers-Dakar in 1986.  Since then, the race has continued to grow from strength to strength.  This epic battle of man and machine vs. nature is in progress right now in South America. It started on January 5, 2013 in Lima, Peru and is scheduled to end on January 20, 2013 in Santiago, Chile.  From concept to execution, it’s an enormous challenge.  To finish Dakar is a victory in itself but to win touches upon the divine.

Carlos Sainz & Timo Gottschalk at the driver presentation in Lima, Peru.

Now that the first week of the 2013 Dakar Rally has been completed, it’s clear that the Red Bull sponsored rally teams aren’t just there to finish the race.  They are there to win.  Moto rider, Francisco ‘Chaleco’ López won three stages so far and is currently sitting pretty in third place overall.  The native Chilean made an unfortunate navigational error in Stage 8 that led him to finish in forty-eighth place and cost him the overall lead.  However, his error benefited other Red Bull riders.  Cyril Despres moved up to fifth in the rankings, and is in the hunt for his fifth Dakar championship.  He has more than enough time to make up 24:26 to take the lead from Yamaha’s David Casteu, once he suffers no more catastrophic mechanical difficulties.  Another KTM rider, Ruben Faria is in second place and like López, he’s hungry for his first Dakar win.

Portuguese KTM rider, Ruben Faria is dwarfed by a Peruvian sand dune

Russia’s KAMAZ Master Team is hot on the trail of Gerard De Rooy and his Petronas Team de Rooy Iveco trucks.  The Dutchman has held the overall lead for almost the entire first week, in a bid to repeat his 2012 Dakar victory.  However, Eduard Nikolaev has been nipping at his heels for the past four stages.  He knows what victory tastes like as a mechanic for KAMAZ’s 2010 winning team.  This year, he wants to experience it as a driver; and with the ‘Tsar of Dakar’ himself, Vladimir Chagin as their team leader, that just might happen.  Of the team’s record ten Dakar victories, seven belong to Chagin.  If there’s anybody who knows how to take this contest, it’s him.  However of the twelve teams that started, eleven remain with a total of fifty-six trucks in the race and since this is Dakar, anything can happen.

Ayrat Mardeev of Russia’s KAMAZ Master Team

The big story in this year’s race has been the Red Bull Qatar Rally Team.  It comprised of two past winners, Carlos ‘El Matador’ Sainz (2010) and Nasser Al-Attiyah (2012) driving Buggies built by California-based Jefferies Racing.  It was Al-Attiyah who had the idea of joining forces with his former arch-rival and together they dominated the first four stages.  You wouldn’t think that a 2WD buggy would be ruling the world’s most merciless off-road race course, but that’s exactly what happened until Stage Six.  Sainz’s Buggy suffered a broken engine, so he and co-driver Timo Gottschalk retired from the race.  Al-Attiyah and his co-driver Lucas Cruz are now on their own with their focus fixed upon current leader, French Dakar Rally legend Stéphane Peterhansel in his Monster X-Raid’s Mini All4 car.  Peterhansel has won multiple times on both two wheels and four.  There’s no doubt that the world will witness an epic second week battle between this Titan of Dakar and the Qatari Olympian.

Nasser Al-Attiyah & Lucas Cruz put the Demon Jefferies Buggy through its paces in Peru

You can follow the action online at www.Dakar.com or Red Bull’s Rally Dakar 2013 web page.  Instant updates can be had via the official Dakar Rally 2013 iPhone app and US fans can see highlights on The Dakar Rally every morning at 2:00 am (EST) on the NBC Sports Network for the event’s duration.  Yahoo Sports has updated stage and overall results.  Of course, you can official updates and exclusive content via social media: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.