It's midsummer in January, and we're in the world's driest desert. We crawl out of our tents in a bivouac surrounded by gorgeous mammoth sand dunes, but it's foggy and damp, so foggy that the helicopters can't take off, hence the start of the day's racing has to be delayed several hours.
Confused? Well, we aren't in Africa anymore.
Dakar, the Senegalese city, still exists in western Africa, but for the first time in the 30-year history of the famous Dakar race, Africa did not feature in the event. Last year's event had to be canceled because of serious terrorist threats just hours before the competitors left Lisbon, Portugal, to race across the Sahara to Dakar.
Within weeks, officials from Argentina and Chile met with ASO, the French race organizers, and offered to host the race in South America. This is why over 800 competitors in/on 500 bikes, quads, cars, and large trucks gathered as usual over New Year's to start the 31st Dakar in Buenos Aires instead of in Paris or Lisbon. ASO assured everyone it would be a classic Dakar, and it was.
Argentinians have long been avid followers of auto racing, and it was no surprise that an estimated half-million fans turned out for the start of the 5000-mile, 14-day race on January 2. Regular Dakar competitors were overwhelmed by the response throughout the race, where roads were teeming with passionate spectators to the point that it often took a police escort to clear the way for competitors and support crews--and even they got asked for autographs.
Winning duo: Miller leads teammate de Villiers across the Andes during a transit section.
This year, all eyes were on the Volks-wagen team of four Race Touareg 2 cars. They had a disastrous race in 2007, when the two leading Race Touaregs were sidelined with serious mechanical problems on the same day in the middle of one of the toughest stages in the sand dunes of Mauritania.
Ever since creating a top-notch team over five years ago, Volkswagen's goal was to be the first to win Dakar with a small-displacement diesel-powered car. Mitsubishi had won the race every year since 2001, but it too developed a new diesel-powered car for this year's Dakar. A third strong team was the X-Raid team of diesel-powered BMW X3s.