When it was all over, McRae managed to set fastest time on two stages near the end of the rally but he had lost so much time in other areas that he ended up in 20th position out of 50 finishers in the car class. But at least he finished. Vatanen was not so lucky as he managed to find a lone tree on one section of empty desert just three days from the finish. Fortunately, only his car was seriously injured, though his race was over.

VW's Kleinschmidt, who won the event in 2001 in a Mitsubishi, also suffered from an unfortunate mishap. The diesel engine drowned on a deep river crossing. The car had to be towed out and the engine needed a total rebuild. She lost so much time that, despite winning one stage and finishing third on the marathon stage, she only managed to finish in 17th position overall. Bruno Saby took a steady run and finished in sixth position overall behind Andrea Mayer, who was the highest placed woman, in a Mitsubishi. VW could not take honors as the highest placed diesel-powered car either, as that accomplishment went to Luc Alphand in the BMW X5 in fourth position. That left the podium finishes to previous winners: Schlesser took third in his Schlesser-Ford buggy, second went to Hiroshi Masuoka in a Mitsubishi Pajero Evo, and first place was captured by Stephane Peterhansel (also in a Pajero Evo, needless to say) who became the second person to win by racing on a motorcycle and in a car.

So endeth the 26th Dakar. Another epic. Although nothing really untoward happened this year, it was a tough one that truly tested the stamina of all competitors and their support teams. Heartache was the worst that befell all but a handful of motorcyclists who suffered broken bones. Competitors and crews are already planning for next year's Dakar. Nobody knows where it will run -- the French organizers will not announce the basic route until late spring. The exact route will not be known until later in the year and the precise GPS waypoints and tracks to be conquered will not be disclosed to co-drivers until the evening before each stage during the event. Hundreds of competitors are ready once again to endure long days of driving through incredible, often hostile terrain, risk getting stuck for hours on end, and certainly getting dirty and tired -- all with the driving ambition to "get to Dakar."

Check www.dakar.com for more details on the rally.