The Dakar Rally (or simply "The Dakar"; formerly known as the "Paris–Dakar Rally") is an annual rally raid organised by the Amaury Sport Organisation. Most events since the inception in 1978 were from Paris, France, to Dakar, Senegal, but due to security threats in Mauritania, which led to the cancellation of the 2008 rally, races since 2009 have been held in South America. The race is open to amateur and professional entries, amateurs typically making up about eighty percent of the participants.
The race is an off-road endurance event. The terrain that the competitors traverse is much tougher than that used in conventional rallying, and the vehicles used are true off-road vehicles rather than modified on-road vehicles. Most of the competitive special sections are off-road, crossing dunes, mud, camel grass, rocks, and erg among others. The distances of each stage covered vary from short distances up to 800–900 kilometres (500–560 mi) per day.
The four major competitive groups in the Dakar are the motorcycles, quads, the cars class, (which range from buggies to small SUVs) and the trucks class. Many vehicle manufacturers exploit the harsh environment the rally offers as a testing ground and consequently to demonstrate the durability of their vehicles, although most vehicles are heavily modified or purpose built.
As of 2011, the engine capacity limit for all motorbikes competing in the Dakar Rally is 450cc. Engines may be either single or twin cylinder. Riders are divided into two groups, "Elite" (Group 1) and Non-Elite (Group 2), with the latter subdivided into two further groups - the "Super Production" (Group 2.1) and "Marathon" (Group 2.2) classes. "Marathon" competitors are not permitted to change such key components as the engine (including the engine case, cylinders and cylinder heads), the frame, the forks or swinging arm, whereas those in the "Super Production" and "Elite" classes may replace these components.
Prior to 2009, Quads were a subdivision of the motorbike category, but they were granted their own separate classification in 2009 and are designated Group 3 in the current regulations. They are divided into two subgroups - Group 3.1, which features two-wheel drive quads with a single cylinder engine with a maximum capacity of 750cc, and Group 3.2, which permits four-wheel drive quads with a maximum engine capacity of 900cc, in either single or twin cylinder layout.
The car class is made up of vehicles weighing less than 3,500 kg (7,716 lb), which are subdivided into several categories. The T1 Group is made up of "Improved Cross-Country Vehicles", subdivided according to engine type (petrol or diesel) and drive type (two-wheel or four-wheel drive). The T2 Group is made up of "Cross-Country Series Production Vehicles", which are subdivided into petrol and diesel categories, while the T3 Group is for "Light Vehicles". There is also an "Open" category catering for vehicles conforming to SCORE regulations.
The Truck class (T4), first run as a separate category in 1980, is made up of vehicles weighing more than 3,500 kg (7,716 lb). Trucks participating in the competition are subdivided into "Series Production" trucks (T4.1) and "Modified" trucks (T4.2), whilst Group T4.3 (formerly known as T5) trucks are rally support trucks - meaning they travel from bivouac to bivouac to support the competition vehicles. These were introduced to the rally in 1998. The truck event was not run in 1989 after it was decided the vehicles, by this stage with twin engines generating in excess of 1000 horsepower, were too dangerous following the death of a DAF crew member in an accident during the 1988 rally.