Chile - The seventh installment of the space saga Star Wars premiered in cinemas worldwide earlier in December 2015 – three weeks prior to the start of another classic, but real-life, adventure; the 38th edition of the world renowned Dakar Rally Raid.
As in the epic movie series most of the Dakar action takes place in the remotest outposts, and the most arduous conditions to be found on earth.
Much of the rally terrain is reminiscent of fictional Jakku, the war-torn desert planet introduced in the latest episode, Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Tatooine, home planet of Anakin and Luke Skywalker, and meeting place for Obi-Wan Kenobi and Han Solo.
World's toughest race
Tatooine, setting for many key scenes in the Star Wars chronicles, is the most iconic planet in its fictional universe, just like the African Ténéré desert became the adventure icon for the Dakar Rally.
For it is here, about six months after the release of the George Lucas masterpiece in 1977 (the original movie Star Wars: A New Hope, episode four in the series) that Frenchman Thierry Sabine got lost on his motorbike during the Abidjan-Nice Rally.
After being rescued from the ocean of sand he returned to France fascinated and enthralled by the landscape and decided the desert would be a good location for a regular rally adventure.
The inaugural Dakar Rally started in Paris in December 1978 with 182 vehicles following a 10 000km route to Algiers and Agadez before eventually finishing in the Senegalese capital of Dakar.
Only 74 vehicles survived the ordeal with Cyril Neveu becoming the event’s first winner on a Yamaha 500 XT motorcycle.
The event rapidly grew with 216 vehicles taking the start in 1980 and 291 in 1981. By this stage, the Paris-Dakar had already begun to attract famous names in motorsport, including the likes of Henri Pescarolo and Jacky Ickx, and started spawning legends of its own…
For the last 37 years Paris-Dakar experts and veterans had their own annual “star wars” in the uninhabitable deserts of Africa and since 2009 in the unforgiving Atacama (the Jakku of Dakar?) and Andes terroir of South America.
FIRST WINNER: Cyril Neveu became the first winner of the Dakar Rally in 1978 on a Yamaha 500 XT. Image: Supplied
'Tsar of Dakar'
In much the same way as Luke, Obi-Wan, Solo, Princess Leia, Yoda and Darth Vader became movie legends, top competitors such as “Monsieur Dakar”, eleven-times winner Stéphane Peterhansel, the “Tsar of Dakar”, truck expert Vladimir Chagin, multiple winners Cyril Despres, Hubert Auriol and Nani Roma, and Jutta Kleinschmidt, the only woman to win the odyssey, have become legendary in Dakar folklore.
Oh, there’s a son and father narrative as well, with Dakar stalwart Yoshimasa Sugawara from Japan that in 2016 will start his 33rd race at age 74 in a Hino truck, with Teruhito (43), his son and a six-times class winner as team mate.
Here’s a condensed history and pictorial of arguably the toughest motor race in the world with highlights of the years coinciding with the release of movies in the Star Wars franchise.
Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
1980 route (Edition 2): Paris–Dakar
Winners (car): Freddy Kottulinsky (Sweden), Gerd Löffelmann (Germany) VW Iltis
Winner (bike): Cyril Neveu (France) Yamaha XT500
Winners (truck): Zohra Ataouat (Algeria), Hadj Daou Boukrif (Algeria), Mahiedine Kaloua (Algeria) Sonacome
Volkswagen’s first Dakar victory wasn’t courtesy of the potent Race Touaregs that dominated the race from 2009 to 2011.
No. this honour belongs to the small Type 183, or Iltis, derived from a VW military vehicle. The Swede Freddy Kottulinsky and German Gerd Löffelmann entered the 1.7-litre all-wheel-drive Iltis in the car category for the 1980 race from Paris to Dakar, and won.
Cyril Neveu scored his second motorcycle victory on his Yamaha XT500, while the Algerians Zohra Ataouat, Hadj Daou Boukrif and Mahiedine Kaloua won the truck race in an Algerian built Sonacome.
Watch: Highlights from the 1980 Dakar Rally
Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983)
1983 route (Edition 5): Paris–Algers-Dakar
Winners (car): Jacky Ickx (Belgium), Claude Brasseur (France) Mercedes-Benz 280G
Winner (bike): Hubert Auriol (France) BMW R100GS
Winners (truck): Georges Groine (France), Thierry de Saulieu (France), Bernard Malferiol (France) Mercedes-Benz 1936AK
In 1983 the route from Paris to Dakar for the first time included the dreaded Ténéré desert. With more than 40 competitors losing their bearings in an interminable sandstorm – some spending nearly four days to get back on course – the legend of the Dakar grew.
The tough race was won by ex-F1 driver Jacky Ickx and Claude Brasseur in a Mercedes-Benz 280G, with Hubert Auriol taking his first victory in the motorcycle category on a BMW R100GS.
In the truck division the French crew of Georges Groine, Thierry de Saulieu and Bernard Malferiol in a Mercedes-Benz 1936 AK were victorious.
Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
1999 route (Edition 20): Granada–Dakar
Winners (car): Jean-Louis Schlesser (France), Philippe Monnet (France) Schlesser-Renault Buggy
Winner (bike): Richard Sainct (France) BMW F650RR
Winners (truck): Karel Loprais (Czech Republic), Radomir Stachura (Czech Republic), Josef Kalina (Czech Republic) Tatra 815
More than a decade passed before The Phantom Menace (which tried to explain the origins of the Star Wars saga) was released.
Meanwhile the Dakar experienced some notable ups and downs. In 1986 the rally organiser, Thierry Sabine, was killed when his helicopter crashed into a dune at Mali.
During this period Peugeot and Mitsubishi, and later Citroën and Mitsubishi were locked in a battle for supremacy of the African dunes, Finnish rally legend Ari Vatanen made his mark and Peterhansel dominated the bike category on a Yamaha.
It was also during this time (in 1992) that the longest Dakar race ever – stretching over 12 427km from Paris to Cape Town – was held.
In 1999 French Dakar hero Jean-Louis Schlesser (Schlesser Buggy) won the car category, compatriot Richard Sainct broke Peterhansel’s stranglehold in the bike category and Czech nationals Karel Loprais, Radomir Stachura and Josef Kalina (Tatra 815) took the honours in the truck category.
Schlesser again won the car category in 1990 – this time parking his buggy at the foot of the Giza pyramids in Egypt.
Watch: 1999 Dakar Rally review
Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)
2002 route (Edition 24): Arras–Madrid–Dakar
Winners (car): Hiroshi Masuoka (Japan), Pascal Maimon (France) Mitsubishi Pajero
Winner (bike): Fabrizio Meoni (Italy) KTM LC8 950R
Winners (truck): Vladimir Chagin (Russia), Semen Yakubov (Russia), Sergey Savostin (Russia) Kamaz
A year before this sequel Mitsubishi’s period of Dakar dominance was initiated by Jutta Kleinschmidt’s victory in a Pajero. In 2002 Hiroshi Masuoka continued this winning streak in the race from Arras to Dakar. He repeated this performance in 2003 in the race from Marseilles to Sharm el Sheikh.
The Italian Fabrizio Meoni achieved his second Dakar victory for KTM and the Russians Vladimir Chagin, Semen Yakubov and Sergey Savostin won the truck category in a Kamaz.
Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)
2005 route (Edition 27): Barcelona–Dakar
Winners (car): Stéphane Peterhansel (France), Jean-Paul Cottret (France) Mitsubishi Pajero Winner (bike): Cyril Despres (France) KTM LC4 660R
Winners (truck): Firdaus Kabirov (Russia), Aydar Belyaev (Russia), Andrey Mokeev (Russia) Kamaz
After winning the Dakar six times on a motorcycle Stéphane Peterhansel achieved his first victory on four wheels and the tenth for the Mitsubishi team in 2005. Since then Peterhansel have won the car category another four times, giving him eleven Dakar victories.
In the motorcycle class Frenchman Cyril Despres won his first Dakar for KTM. He dedicated his victory to his team mates Richard Sainct, who died a few weeks earlier during the Pharaohs Rally, and Fabrizio Meoni, who had died on the event.
In the truck category the Russians continued their dominance, with Firdaus Kabirov, Aydar Belyaev and Andrey Mokeev winning the event in their Kamaz.
Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015)
2015 route (Edition 37): Buenos Aires–Iquique-Buenos Aires
Winners (car): Nasser Al-Attiyah (Qatar), Matthieu Baumel (France) Mini All 4 Racing
Winner (bike): Marc Coma (Spain) KTM 450 Rally
Winners (truck): Ayrat Mardeev (Russia), Aydar Belyaev (Russia). Dmitriy Svistunov (Russia) Kamaz
Winner (quad): Rafal Sonik (Poland) Yamaha
The Dakar went through a decade of turmoil following the release of Star Wars Episode III in 2005. Since inception in 1978 most events were from Paris to Dakar, but security threats in Mauritania led to the cancellation of the 2008 rally.
This led to the event moving to another continent, and since the 2009 edition, won by our own Giniel de Villiers, the Dakar was run in South America through Argentina, Chile, Peru and Bolivia. It also saw the introduction of an official category for quad bikes.
This year Nasser Al-Attiyah from Qatar scored his second Dakar victory in the car category, Spain’s Marc Coma dominated the bike race, the Russians Ayrat Mardeev, Aydar Belyaev and Dmitriy Svistunov (Kamaz) were victorious in the truck category and the Pole Rafal Sonik won the quad category.
FLYING MINI: Qatari, Nasser Al-Attiyah together with Matthieu Baumel of France won the Dakar Rally piloting an Mini All 4 Racing. Image: Supplied