Friday, January 25, 2013

Death Race 2013

The Dakar Rally is considered to be the world's most grueling car race, traditionally starting the field somewhere in western Europe- usually in France or Spain, preferably Paris- and sending them straight through the Sahara Desert before spitting them back out, usually in Dakar, Senegal. The race route routinely had to bob and weave around various local threats and skirmishes.

The day before the 2008 rally was slated to start, though, fears of a terrorist attack directly targeting the Dakar forced the event to be cancelled. The following year, the Dakar was moved to South America, where it has remained ever since. They hope to return to Africa at some point, but right now, that's just not possible- particularly as we speak, as Mali is a key nation on the way from western Europe to Senegal, and Bamako and Timbuktu regular stops, and the nation needs major rerouting to avoid. You almost can't run the race without Mali- and if Malian refugees are streaming into Mauritania, Mali's western neighbor and the only other way to enter Senegal from the north or east, there's just nowhere left to draw the route.

Meanwhile, a Hungarian radio host named Andrew Szabo had been grousing for a few years prior to the move about how the Dakar had become too rigid and expensive. So he created a looser, low-cost alternative called the Budapest-Bamako. Just line up a street-legal vehicle (no entry fee if you show up driving something particularly unsuitable for a trans-Saharan journey), show up at the starting line in Budapest and get yourself to Bamako one way or another in, like, a couple weeks, we're not picky. There's a planned route, planned stages, but nobody really seems to mind if someone wanders off and makes their own surprise route. There is a racing portion, but there are navigational and even geocaching elements to it. A lot of drivers are just there to cover the distance, party, take in the scenery, and raise money for causes in places along the route, with a prize for the team that performs the best charity work. Many don't even stop at the finish line, preferring to drive to alternative finish lines, either provided by the organizers or that they decide on themselves. With the Dakar now in South America, the Budapest-Bamako considers itself the Dakar's spiritual successor.

The start of the 2013 Budapest-Bamako is scheduled to be today. Organizers have already moved the finish line to Guinea-Bissau. You recall Guinea-Bissau here from a week and a half ago. The Hungarian anti-terror agency has called them everything short of morons for even thinking of setting off at a time like this.

As the translation of this article from of Slovakia indicates, they set off at a time like this.

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