Motorsport: FIVE Dakar-Rally Car Records You Might Not Know

FIVE Dakar-Rally Car Records You Might Not Know

By James Gent
January 10, 2020

Though very much in name only, the Dakar Rally brought motorsport’s off-season to a close this weekend with its very first running in Saudi Arabia. In doing so, the Kingdom becomes the 30th different country to host part – though in this case all – of the Paris-Dakar event since its inaugural run in 1979. Don’t expect that to be the only record that tumbles this year either.

With that in mind, we’ve once again been skimming the history books to bring you five of the lesser known facts about the Dakar Rally. Just a heads up, we’ve been thematic and stuck largely to the Car’s division with this list, though we have tipped out hat to an event ‘Truck’ legend with point one. Speaking of which…

1. Japan’s Yoshimasa Sugawara holds SIX Dakar Rallies…but has never taken a win

Amazingly, even with a winners’ list that boasts former World Rally Champions Ari Vattanen and Carlos Sainz, and sports car God Jacky Ickx, only six drivers have ever been awarded official ‘Dakar Legend’ status. The most recent was tenured class winner Xavi Foj, who joined an elite club alongside multi-time event winners Nani Roma (cars) and Cyril Despres (bikes), event icon Stéphane Peterhansel (bikes and cars), Franco Picco and, finally, Yoshimasa Sugawara.

The winners’ rostrum eluded the latter, true, but the Japanese driver did sign off his Dakar career last year having amassed a remarkable SIX records on the most notoriously dangerous rally endurance event in the world.

The most prominent are the 35 starts (a record) Sugawara made consecutively (another one) following his Dakar debut in 1983, all of which, from 1992 onwards, he made with HINO Motors. In that time, he racked up 29 finishes in total (record number three), 20 finishes in succession from 1989 to 2009 (that’s four), and six 2nd place finsihes and one 3rd, the most of any competitor without taking a win.

Throw in his entries across three categories – cars, bikes, and trucks, obviously – and that’s your six.

*Images courtesy of HINO Motors

2. The Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution has the most wins of any car on the Dakar. And the most 2nd AND the most 3rds!

To say that the Mitsubishi Pajero has enjoyed a fruitful run at the Dakar would be an almost sarcastic understatement. It’s commonly known that, since its event debut in 1983, the Mitsubishi Pajero has taken 12 overall wins, the most of any vehicle to-date. That, by the way, is seven wins more than the next most successful manufacturer on the list – Peugeot – and the latter took five wins with three different cars!

What’s perhaps less well-known is that Pajero’s other podium records. In 1984, one year after its debut, the Pajero finished 3rd with the late Andrew Cowan at the wheel. It was the first of an eventual 15 3rd-place finishes for the Pajero on the Dakar. Oddly, one year later, Cowan also secured the first 2nd place finish for the Pajero, though admittedly the main focus was on the Patrick Zaniroli-piloted example that took Mitsubishi’s first victory on the event that same day. Even so, Cowan’s result was the first of an eventual 13 2nd place finishes for the most tenured Dakar machine of them all.

Fun additional fact, Cowan’s 3rd and 2nd places in ’84 and ’85 mark the last time a British driver finished on the podium, in the ‘Cars’ division, on the Dakar Rally.

If for some reason you were still doubting the Pajero’s credentials on the Dakar, bear in mind Mitsubishi’s 4×4 also has the most stage wins to its name – 175 – almost double that of its nearest rival (Peugeot, 78).

*Images courtesy of Mitsubishi and Rallye Dakar

3. In the first 10 Paris-Dakar rallies, seven different manufacturers took victory in the car division. In the last 10, there’s been only four.

On 14 January 1979, Cyril Neveu and Alain Génestier made history by becoming the first winners of the Paris-Dakar Rally, the former aboard a Yamaha 500 XT motorbike, the latter at the wheel of a V8 Range Rover.

Two years later, Range Rover collected another win, this time courtesy of René Metge. Before 1989 ticked around, the British marque’s success had been emulated by Volkswagen (Ilitis, 1980), Renault (20 Turbo, 1982), Mercedes (280 GE), Mitsubishi (Pajero, 1985), Porsche and Peugeot. Of those half-dozen, only the latter two managed to secure more than one win, Peugeot’s 205 T16 and 405 T16 taking two wins on the bounce in ’88 and ’89, while the 911 / 953 and 959 took Porsche’s only wins to-date in 1984 and 1986. Unsurprisingly, they feature quite prominently on the recent ‘Top 5’ list…

My my, how times change. At the dawn of the 2010s, Volkswagen took the second of an eventual trilogy of wins (2010 to 2011, Race Touareg 2 / 3), a strike rate immediately succeeded by MINI (ALL4 Racing, 2012 to 2015), three years of success for a returning Peugeot (2016 to 2018, 2008 DKR and 3008 DKR) and the first-ever event win for a Toyota last year.

Interestingly, across that decade, Carlos Sainz, Nasser Al-Attiyah, Nani Roma and Stéphane Peterhansel moved their win tallies up to two, three, two and 13(!) respectively. The opening 10 races meanwhile couldn’t be more different, with only René Metge and Ari Vatanen winning more than once, in ’81 and ’84, and ’87 and ’89 respectively. For the completionists among you, the other winners during that 10 year period were – deep breath – Génestier (’79), Freddy Kottulinsky (’80), Claude Marreau (’82), Jacky Ickx (’83), Patrick Zaniroli (’85), and Juha Kankkunen (’88).

*Images courtesy of Volkswagen, Range Rover, Renault, Mercedes, Mitsubishi, Peugeot and Porsche

4. The longest period without a French car winner is only four years

Officially, the record books state that France has had 22 winners on the Dakar Rally in the Cars division. Oddly, that’s identical to the number of French winners in the Bike rankings. It’s also 17 more than Finland has managed, and 13 more than Japan, Spain, Qatar, Germany, South Africa, AND Belgium have managed combined.

If, however, you were to count co-drivers – which you really, really should – France’s success on the Dakar becomes even more staggering. Indeed, as of last year, and across the then-40-year history of the Dakar Rally, the longest stint without the tricolor being represented on the top step was between 1988 and 1991.

During that period, Finnish compatriots Juha Kankkunen and Juha Piironen got the ball rolling with their one and only win in ’88 aboard the Peugeot 205 T16. One year later, Finland’s Ari Vatanen and Sweden’s Bruno Berglund collected their event hat trick with the Peugeot 405 T16 (’89 and ’90) and the Citroën ZX.

Discounting the cancelled 2008 event, only once since then has three years gone by without a French winner. That occurred between 2009 and 2011, when Volkswagen’s Giniel de Villiers (South Africa) and Dirk von Zitzewitz (Germany), Carlos Sainz and Lucas Cruz (both Spanish), and Nasser Al-Attiyah (Qatar) and Timo Gottschalk (Germany) took victory with the Touareg

*Images courtesy of Peugeot and Citroen

5. Only five cars have locked out the overall podium since 1979

Somewhat unsurprisingly, given its success on the event, the Mitsubishi Pajero also leads the way in terms of podium lockouts, having achieved this feat five times in 1992, 1997, 1998, 2002 and 2003.

Fun fact, Kenjiro Shinozuka has been involved in all but one of them, the Japanese driver having finished 3rd in 1992 and 2002, 2nd in 1998, and taken his only win in 1997. Fittingly, though Shinozuka didn’t finish any of his next four entries with Nissan, Japanese compatriot Hiroshi Masuoka did claim his second consecutive win in 2003.

Mitsubishi though was not the first manufacturer to claim all spots on the car podium. That achievement was first accomplished by the Peugeot 405 T16 in 1990, capping off a remarkable run of four successive wins for Il Lione and the second on the bounce for 1981 World Rally Champion, Ari Vatanen.

After six podium lockouts in 13 years, it would be another seven before the next one, Carlos Sainz leading home VW teammate Nasser Al-Attiyah and Mark Miller in 2010. One year later, the Volkswagen Race Touareg grabbed the top three spots again, albeit this time with Al-Attiyah taken the laurels ahead of Giniel de Villiers and Sainz.

Though it won four times in succession from 2012 to 2015, the MINI ALL4 Racing secured the top three spots ‘only’ once in 2014, Nani Roma taking his first win in the Cars division ahead of teammates Stéphane Peterhansel and Nasser Al-Attiyah. Finally, in 2017, Peugeot joined this illustrious group with its second win in succession for the 3008 DKR, Peterhansel making it 13 wins ahead of World Rally Chamionship legend Sébastien Loeb and Cyril Despres.

To-date, Peugeot is the only manufacturer to lock out the car podium with two completely different makes of vehicle.

*Images courtesy of Mitsubishi, Volkswagen, MINI and Peugeot

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4 years ago

The article is very enjoyable for someone following the Paris-Dakar, but only touches the boyish madness of the pilots. Please write additionally more in details about the the grand moments of that rally. One to list of many is the last year (1996 if I am not mistaken) when the “Red Devils of the desert” – the mighty Citroen ZX Raid finished with all its cars sprinting on the beaches of Dakar.
Thank you

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