From the start, it was clear Mitsubishi was going to dominate the event with an Evolution version of the Pajero (displayed at the 2002 Los Angeles auto show), powered by a 3.5-liter/270-horse engine. The team dominated, with Hiroshi Masuoka taking the overall victory for the second year in a row. However, for all but the last two days he'd been running in second place to his teammate, Frenchman Stephane Peterhansel, who led every day--until he hit a rock while making up time after a small mechanical problem. He dropped to fourth behind two other Mitsus.

Two of the 280-horse V-6 Nissan pickups finished in fifth and seventh, while two of the VW Tareks finished in sixth and eighth positions. Kleinschmidt finished eighth after a lot of teething troubles early on, just ahead of a BMW X5. VW had won the 2WD class and the diesel-powered-vehicle category.

In all, 67 of the 130 SUVs, buggies, pickups, and heavy-duty support vehicles finished the grueling 19-day event. The competitors had covered 5345 miles, with 3260 miles of special stages run at a winning average speed of 67 mph. Each day included a timed high-speed stage ranging in length from 16 to 365 miles. In previous years, the Dakar had been affected by political strife, but this year's event was relatively trouble free, though one competitor lost his life and one vehicle was damaged by a land mine.

The organizers have yet to announce the course for next-year's Dakar. Check out www.dakar.com to find out more about this fascinating event. The following manufacturer sites also provide great pictures and stories: www.touareg-dakar.com; www.nissan-dakar.com; www.x-raid.de; www.mitsubishi-motors.co.jp/motorsports/.