More than 400 vehicles – cars, trucks and motorcycles – are embarking today on the most challenging off-road rally/race in the world, the 2012 Dakar, that will go 8,300 kms over 14 days through Argentina, Chile and Peru.
Canada is being represented this year in the car division by the ALDO Racing Team of Montreal (driver David Bensadoun, navigator Patrick Beaule and crew chief Yves Turcotte), which has entered a specially built "Desert Warrior" vehicle that was built by Rally Raid U.K. and is powered by a 3.0L BMW turbo-diesel motor.
Another Canadian, Don Hatton, planned to enter the Dakar in the motorcycle division but the B.C. off-road racer was injured in a farm accident and had to cancel his trip.
Since the Dakar started in 1979, only seven Canadian teams have entered cars and none have finished, something that Bensadoun and Beaule are determined to change. (The only Canadian to ever finish the Dakar, Lawrence Hacking of Georgetown, did it on a motorcycle in 2001. Conor Malone and Glenna Chestnutt of Toronto gave it the old college try a year ago in a Corvette-engined Chevy pickup and were more than half-way home before a bum engine fan put them out.)
The Dakar - previously known as the Paris-Dakar Rally - is no longer held in Europe and Africa. It was moved to South America after it was cancelled at the last minute in 2008 because of terrorist threats.
To say it is a gruelling adventure is an understatement. More than half the field, on average, never finishes. In 2005, for instance, 688 racers started in all classes and only 215 got to the end; in 2006, 475 entered and 193 finished. And there’s another grim statistic: nearly 50 people, including several spectators, have been killed over the years.
David Bensadoun has been involved in automotive competition for most of the last 20 years, competing in off-road motorcycle racing and rallying, road course car racing (he’s finished in the Top Five in the Castrol Canadian Touring Car Championship the last few years) and long-distance cross-country rallying (he and Beaule – an off-road motorcycle champion, also from Quebec – finished third in the Rally Tuareg in Morocco this March, which qualified them for the Dakar).
Now, as well as a motoring contest, Bensadoun and Beaule are also racing to raise money for charity. They hope to bring in $500,000 for CANFAR – the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research - and are already nearly half-way there: $200,000 is already in the kitty.
Said Bensadoun in a release; "Racing at Dakar is something I’ve been dreaming of since I was a teenager. Now that the moment is finally here, it felt strange not to use it for a higher purpose.
"I chose to deveote my race to ALDO Fights AIDS because it’s a cause that’s important to our company and it’s a cause that needs to be talked about. While we’ve made notable advancements in prevention and medication, the fact remains that there is still no cure for AIDS."
Now, motorsport fans hoping for TV coverage of the 2011 Dakar are out of luck. Unlike in the United States, where the cable channel Versus (NHL hockey, auto racing) will carry daily reports, starting today, nothing is planned for Canada till later in January, after the competition has concluded (OLN Network, reportedly).
However, the Dakar website is routinely updated and Bensadoun plans to Tweet their progress at twitter.com (@motobenny).