Wed, Feb 13, 2008 - Page 19 News List

Organizers plan to move Dakar Rally to South America

AP , PARIS

Dakar Rally director Etienne Lavigne delivers a speech after the cancelation of the Dakar Rally on Jan. 4.

PHOTO: AP

The next Dakar Rally will zoom past the Andes, over Argentine plains and through Chilean desert instead of racing through African scrub and dunes.

Forced by the threat of terrorism to cancel this year's race, organizers hope to give the Dakar Rally a new beginning by swapping continents and going to South America next year.

Race director Etienne Lavigne detailed the route in a telephone interview on Monday. He was already in Buenos Aires, scouting out the Argentine capital that will host the start and finish of next year's race.

"It's a very, very big adventure," Lavigne said.

FIRST TIME

This year marked the first time that the 30-year-old rally, one of the biggest competitions in automobile racing, was called off. Next year will mark the first time that it will not race in Africa.

"Dakar competitors are going to discover new territory, new scenery, but with the same sprit of competition and adventure, with very hard stages," Lavigne said.

About 500 competitors signed up for this year's race that was canceled last month after French government warnings about safety. Lavigne said he expects that many again next year and promised everything would be done to ensure that teams hit by this year's cancelation are able to race next year.

RETURN

Lavigne said the race will return to Africa when it can. The threat of a terrorist attack pushed the element of risk to levels organizers deemed unacceptable this year. Eight of the 15 stages were to have been in Mauritania, where al-Qaeda-linked militants killed a family of French tourists on Dec. 24.

"It's just a pause with Africa, because unfortunately the security conditions aren't there," Lavigne said.

He said the welcome in South America has been "fabulous."

Next year's edition will traverse 9,000km in Argentina and Chile, with actual racing over nearly 6,000km on 15 days from Jan. 3 to Jan. 18, with one rest day.

The race will start and finish in Buenos Aires, and go to Patagonia, the Andes mountains and venture into the Atacama desert, the world's driest, Lavigne said. The exact route is still being worked out.

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