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Enthusiastic Porteños come out for South American Dakar start

Video by Louis MASSIE

Text by Antoine RAUX

Latest update : 2009-01-03

For the first time ever, the Dakar Rally will take place outside the African continent. Its 530 competitors have 16 days in which to complete a Buenos Aires-Valparaiso loop.

Read our special report: 'Dakar rally lands in South America'

 “Look! But look at that … Amazing. You would say a space shuttle!” says an ecstatic father to the little boy perched up on his shoulders, before a buggy revving its engine at full throttle.
 

 

crowd before the race's start
Photo credit: Antoine Raux.

 

Fans have come by the thousands on Thursday to admire the state-of-the-art machines displayed during an open day at the 2009 Dakar Rally. In the home country of late Formula One champion Juan Manuel Fangio, there is no shortage of amateur sports fans.
 

They have come to get freebies, to lie down under the trucks for suspension inspections and to pay their respects in front of the 530 competitors in the race as they file past the podium. According to the applause-meter, the four shiny new Mitsubishi cars get first prize from the visitors.
 

Symbolic route
 

The next day, the entire centre of Buenos Aires is blocked with several hundred thousand enthusiasts gathered to celebrate the start of South America’s first-ever “Dakar”. A symbolic route has been drawn along the normally-crowded avenues of the “Micro Centro”, Buenos Aires’s financial district.
 

On the agenda: motorbike wheelies and a demonstration of acceleration prowess from the racing cars. “RRRRRUUUUUMMM”, shout the children, imitating the piercing sound of the motors. The crowd is in heaven as each car parades by.


crowd before the race's start
Photo credit: Antoine Raux.

For the city of Buenos Aires, it is a great deal. In full austral summer, and after the end-of-year holidays, calm usually reigns in the Argentinean capital. But the “Dakar” has shaken things up and projected BA’s image across the world.

Organisers say the event is being watched by 150 million TV viewers in Europe and is being broadcast in 189 countries.

For 15 days, Argentina and Chile will welcome 180 journalists. “A windfall for tourism promotion in both countries,” says Leonardo Botto Alvarez, “Dakar” coordinator for the ministry of Argentinean tourism.



 "A wothwile investment"
 

His government fought hard to host the race. He is in charge of the aerial transport of the vehicles, participates in the installation of temporary camps and oversees security across the route. Three thousand police and more than 2,000 members of the civil defence force have been called up for the rally.

Because Argentina is an agricultural country it is necessary to protect access to the properties that competitors will be driving alongside – protection which will extend across 9,500 kilometres.

Argentina’s government provided a total of 8 million dollars for the event. Provinces directly involved in the rally route added an additional 2.5 million. “A worthwhile investment,” says Carlos Feeney, a ministry of tourism delegate who deals specifically with France. “The economic impact should be exceptional for regions that offer great physical beauty but that are still unknown to tourism.”

Everyone here hopes that the Dakar Rally will take place in the country for three years.

Date created : 2009-01-03

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