There's no other race like the Dakar rally. It is the most physically gruelling and mentally challenging motor sport event in the world, where only the best riders and drivers will get to the end. During the 16-day marathon, competitors will travel over 8,500 km battling the toughest terrain imaginable and testing their mental and physical skills to the ultimate limit. Hundreds of competitors enter each year on motorcycles, quad bikes, cars and trucks, but less than 40 per cent make it to the finish.
In 2006, competitors in the Dakar rally (www.dakar.com) will race from the Portuguese capital city of Lisbon and travel south through Spain before crossing over to Morocco, where they will have their first taste of desert riding. They will then race through Mauritania to the Black Africa of Mali, Guinea and Senegal, where competitors' navigational skills will make the difference between success and failure. In Senegal, they will ride through dense vegetation and numerous water crossings before struggling to the finish line at Dakar - if they make it that far.
So, just how can any hopeful motorcycle rider prepare for a rally such as the Dakar? One of the 2006 rally's most high profile entrants is Long Way Round's Charley Boorman, who will be competing on a BMW F650 GS Dakar. Surprisingly though, Charley had never raced a motorcycle before he decided to take on the challenge of this world-famous and daunting race.
"I've wanted to race in the Dakar since I was a young boy," said Charley. "Then after Ewan [McGregor] and I rode around the world last year I thought I'd try and make this dream come true. During my preparation for Long Way Round, I met BMW off-road instructors Simon Pavey and Nick Plumb, who have competed in the Dakar several times and they persuaded me that I could do it."
In 2004 Charley Boorman and Ewan McGregor rode 20,000 miles from London to New York on BMW R1150 GS Adventure motorcycles. The duo rode through Europe, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and Siberia before flying to Alaska in Canada and riding across the USA to finish in New York. The Long Way Round television series has been seen all over the world from Africa to Uzbekistan and has turned Charley into a household name, as well as a credible 'unofficial' ambassador for BMW Motorrad.
As preparation for their epic journey, Charley and Ewan completed the award-winning BMW Off-Road Skills course held in south Wales. Over the two-day course, they were taught the fundamentals of off-road riding by five-times Dakar competitor Simon Pavey and three-times entrant Nick Plumb.
"Ewan and I learnt so much about off-road riding on the BMW course," said Boorman. "Ewan had never ridden off-road before the BMW course but as a result of the training, we both managed to conquer the incredibly difficult terrain that we were often faced with on our journey."
Since the Long Way Round, Charley has returned to south Wales many times to train with Simon Pavey (who will be one of his team-mates for the 2006 rally attempt) and third rider Matt Hall, who will be filming the team's efforts for a new television series and book about the Dakar experience in the project called Race to Dakar. Simon's job is to help Charley achieve the fitness and skill levels needed to compete in a rally of this type. Consequently, Boorman has completed an advanced BMW Off-Road Skills course in Wales, as well as the World of BMW's Brecon Beacons Adventure. The trio also recently travelled to Dubai to ride the Dakar-prepared race bikes on sand for the first time.
"Riding over the sand dunes was a great experience. We had a guide who took us out each day and we were able to test the performance of the bike, as well as our own stamina out in the desert. We don't have too long now before the start of the rally and our final preparations will include more training with Simon in south Wales, some riding in Australia and possibly Dubai again."
As part of his on-going preparations, Charley has competed in several races in the UK, including various club races, a round of the British Enduro Championship and even lined up with world championship riders in the UK round of the World Enduro Championship. He has also attended BMW's Great African GS Challenge in South Africa and ridden the new HP2 Enduro at the Aras Rural Enduro Park in Spain.
Charley's Dakar experience will be captured in a television series, DVD and book. The project will look into all aspects of competing in the Dakar including the groundwork for the race through the bike preparation, physical training, a practise rally raid and logistics.
The media package will also focus on the highlights of Charley's attempt in the Dakar. This will provide a story that has never been told before, one that stresses how difficult this adventure is on a personal level and not specifically on which position he finishes. This 'lifestyle' approach to the documentary and the fact Charley is a newcomer and just as determined as the other competitors, will give an alternative take on the Dakar, from the privateer angle, as opposed to the majority of sports coverage which focuses on race results.
The 2006 Dakar will start in Lisbon, Portugal on 31 December 2005 and finish on 15 January 2006 in Dakar. Further details on the three-rider Race to Dakar team can be found on www.worldofbmw.com or www.racetodakar.com.