The official name of the Paris-Dakar Rally in French is "le Dakar", and it is also commonly referred to simply as the "Paris-Dakar". Each year, the name of the lead sponsor or location name is added to the name. For example, the official name of the rally that started in Lisbon, January 6th, 2007 was the Euromilhoes Lisbon-Dakar 2007.The Paris-Dakar, considered the world's most demanding motor sports race, was created in 1979 by French adventurist Thierry Sabine and since 1981 it has been recognized as an official race of the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile and Federation Internationale de Motocyclisme with the 2007 rally marking the 29th running.
One of the biggest characteristics of this race is that unlike the WRC (World Rally Championship), both pros and amateurs are able to enter the race. In addition, a large variety of vehicle types can be entered including passenger cars, sports cars, sidecars, buggies, and trucks. As a rule, vehicles can range anywhere from being unmodified production vehicles to one-of-a-kind customized cars resulting in only the Paris-Dakar Rally having such a wide variety and well-rounded field of different cars.
Every year on January 1st (January 6th in 2007), the race begins in front of the Versailles Palace in the outskirts of Paris where the rally begins amid applause and vocal support from spectators to the racers heading into the Sahara Desert. The race runs through Barcelona, Spain and then crosses onto the African continent, and ends after about 1000-2000 km in the Senegal capital of Dakar with about 450 vehicles racing through torrid 50-degree heat for 2 to 3 weeks to reach the finish line. Because the race traverses the punishing Sahara Desert with virtually no towns or emergency facilities in between, many injuries and in some cases even deaths have occurred. One of the other reasons it is known as the world's most demanding race is that the course also travels through politically unstable countries such as in the Western Sahara. The actual race course changes annually with some years when both the start and finish lines have changed. Regardless of whether the start, finish, or course is changed, the race is still commonly referred to as the Paris-Dakar Rally.
The 4-wheel vehicle category of the Paris-Dakar Rally is broadly divided into the two categories of prototypes and unmodified production marathon classes. In addition to typical 4-wheel passenger cars, other vehicles used in the race include motorcycles (motor), trucks (camions), and buggies. In the past, these categories consisted of the three groups of T1 (unmodified production vehicle class), T2 (production-based modified vehicle class), and T3 (prototype vehicle). For automobiles, the camion class was also added to these groups. However since 2001, the group classifications were modified as follows.
The Toyota Land Cruiser has become a favorite of many privateers who enter the Paris-Dakar Rally with a production model. The Land Cruiser has demonstrated unshakable reliability in the unmodified production model/marathon class. The Land Cruiser started competing in the first race in 1979 through 1984 being solely driven by privateers. For the 17th event in 1995, the Land Cruiser was entered under the Team Araco (Now TLC). The following is a review of the intense competition waged by the Land Cruiser in its 27 year history in the Paris-Dakar Rally.
The original Paris-Dakar Rally started as the Oasis Paris-Dakar Rally with a total of 167 vehicles chasing a faraway dream through the Sahara Desert. Only 100 vehicles finished the race, and of these 15 were Toyota vehicles.
The 2nd rally was the 1980 Oasis Paris-Dakar Rally with a total of 203 vehicles, of which 105 finished. Eight of the finishing vehicles were Land Cruisers and all drivers who made it to Dakar were considered winners and heroes.
The 3rd version in 1981 took place as the "Paris-Match" Rally. This was the first year that the race was recognized as an official rally by the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile. The distance of the race was also extended from 9,000 km to 10,000 km. and it attracted 289 vehicles with only 42 finishing within the allotted time. Of these finishers, nine were Toyota vehicles. In the marathon class, a Land Cruiser BJ43 finished in 2nd place and gained instant popularity. A private team from Japan headed by Kiichiro Yokota, Team ACP, entered the race for the first time this year by driving a Land Cruiser FJ60 with passenger car styling that attracted major attention. Although not within the allotted time, Yokota did manage to finish the race thus becoming the first ever Japanese person to reach the goal in Dakar.
From 1982, the race officially became known as the Paris-Alger-Dakar Rally. Toyota vehicles performed exceptionally well this year as the 4 Runner won in the modified diesel class and finished 9th overall. The Land Cruiser were champions of the diesel class and entered with the 1500cc Carina with wins in two-wheel with victories in the three classes of overall, production, and marathon which surprised the French and thus earning the nickname of "Flying Carina". Of the 73 vehicles finishing within the allotted time, almost one-third were Toyota vehicles. In 1983, the 5th "Paris-Alger-Dakar Le Point Europe1" Rally was hit by sandstorms in the Tenere Desert, resulting in a low 27% finish rate for the 400 vehicles that entered the race. Amidst these grueling conditions, a Land Cruiser FJ40 with driver Ratet was the top finisher in the modified production gasoline class.
In 1984, the 6th "Paris-Alger-Dakar VSD Europe1 Pastis 51" Rally had attracted the world's top works teams such as the Porsche 911/4WD, Open Manta 4WD, and Mercedes-Benz inevitably making it a high-speed rally. Of the 74 vehicles that finished the race, 17 were from Toyota, which had entered 55 vehicles. In the marathon class, the FJ60 finished 3rd under the steady driving of Ratet and the FJ45 finished 2nd in overall rankings. As for the teams from Japan, Team ACP with Ishihara and Yokota finished 46th overall in an FJ61V, and Odawara and Matsumae finished 6th in the assistant class in a BJ61. In 1985, the year of the 7th "Paris-Alger-Dakar VSD Olympia" Rally consisted of 425 four-wheel vehicles, of which 65 were Land Cruisers. For privateers, the highly reliable Land Cruiser was instrumental as a support car for works and motorcycle teams. Also in this year, famous Land Cruiser driver Ratet competed for the first time in a prototype FJ60 and finished 4th overall. Fifteen of the 55 vehicles to finish the race were Toyota vehicles, demonstrating their typical undoubted toughness. For the 1987 and 9th "Paris-Alger-Dakar Telefunken" Rally, Team ACP raced the Toyota Land Cruiser BJ71V named "Toyota Naruhodo", in the modified diesel category of the marathon class and captured first place. Driver Ratet finished 4th overall, and Toyota swept the top three positions in the unmodified production category. In total, Toyota won two championships.
The 10th "Pioneer Rally Paris-Alger-Dakar" Rally held in 1988 covered 13,000 km in 22 days and attracted 420 vehicles wit the well-equipped works teams competing fiercely. While finishing the race proved difficult for privateers, Toyota Land Cruisers led by Ratet swept the top three positions in the unmodified and modified production categories. Land Cruisers also finished 7th and 10th overall, an achievement for production vehicles that only the Land Cruiser can claim. This performance in the marathon class also received high praise in Europe. Furthermore, a team from the regional Japanese area of Shikoku participating as a privateer, although not within the allotted time, managed to finish the race and Team ACP accomplished 3rd place in the marathon diesel class.
The achievements of privateers from the 1989 11th "Paris-Tunis-Dakar" Rally to the 1995 17th event led to the participation of teams from the 17th rally onwards.