There’s a longstanding argument as to which form of motorsport is the most gruelling. Is it Formula 1 with its relentless G-forces, the World Rally Championship due to its need for brain-frazzling pace notes, or is it the Word Endurance Championship for the required stamina? We think the answer might be none of the above, given the famed Dakar Rally requires talents from all three disciplines.
Dakar competitors traverse some of the world’s most unforgiving terrain and contend with extreme weather, all while battling with a field of seriously skilled competitors. A good proportion of entrants won’t see the finish line, with the challenge proving too much for the car or its crew. It takes a very special machine to compete in the Dakar – here's five of the best to ever traverse the rally's Saharan route.
We all know the Mercedes-Benz ‘G-Wagen’ to be one of the hardiest 4x4s out there today, but when new, Merc needed a means to prove it. This modified G-Class won the 1983 Paris-Dakar in the hands of famed Belgian racing driver Jacky Ickx.
Backed by Texaco, this rugged machine stormed the dunes and became only the second German marque to win the event after Volkswagen.
During the 1980s Porsche was developing its halo car, the Porsche 959. This advanced all-wheel drive supercar was a real passion project for the brand, but racing driver Jacky Ickx saw its potential away from asphalt. Its advanced drivetrain would prove useful on the Dakar Rally.
Porsche was reluctant at first, given the time and resources required to develop its 959 for rallying. It would also be a huge embarrassment should Porsche’s shiny new car fail to finish. However, Ickx was persistent and so the Porsche 935 was developed as a lower-cost halfway house between a 959 and a 911.
This cobbled together machine, fitted with a simplified all-wheel drive system derived from the 959, actually wont the Dakar event in 1984. This gave Porsche the confidence to enter a proper 959 Dakar car the following year.
After really making its mark in the ferocious world of Group B rallying, the Peugeot 205 T16 escaped redundancy after its WRC ban by fleeing to the Dakar. It made sense for one of Peugeot's all-star cast of former factory rally drivers, Ari Vatanen, to lead the team. Vatanen claimed victory at the event in 1987 – the first of four wins at this event to add to his 1981 WRC title.
The 205 T16 won again in 1988 but was later replaced by the Peugeot 405 T16. A required increase in wheelbase for the Dakar event distorted the 205’s profile too much, according to marketing men of the era.
The Mitsubishi Pajero (Shogun) is Dakar royalty, with various incarnations winning the event 11 times. Such success, several of these scored in a row, makes it the most successful name in Dakar to date.
Its most distinctive model was the Pajero Evolution that won the event in 2004 with Stéphane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret. Sporting a more aerodynamic fastback shape and distinctive livery, the '04 Pajero was quite the sight as it leaped through the air.
After Porsche’s 1984 success in the 935, it was confident enough to put its full weight behind a Dakar variant of the 959 supercar. Three cars were entered in 1985. However all three failed to finish, resulting in exactly the embarrassment Porsche was trying to avoid.
After some development focusing on how the 390bhp engine could better cope with Africa’s low-octane fuel, the 959 finally gained the victory it deserved. It remains one of the most distinctive rally cars of all time.
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