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Caimi Start

Discovering The Huge Organizational Machine Of The Dakar Rally

Jan 062020

In 2008, when the Dakar Rally left Africa for Argentina, David Castera had to move his family to Buenos Aires. At that time, the Frenchman was the rally’s sporting director, responsible for designing the route and logistics management. In 2020, Castera is leading the third chapter of the legendary rally with the discovery of a new continent and a new country, Saudi Arabia. As the man in command at Amaury Sport Organization (ASO), the French company responsible for putting on the event, Castera revealed the huge organizational efforts behind this year’s edition of the race.

“It all started this past April,” Castera says. “In eight months, we had to recreate in Saudi Arabia the well-oiled organizational machine that was smoothly working in South America. We had to study the new country first in terms of terrain but also regulations. Here, for example, the bus and trucks can only travel during the night, so we had to redesign the whole logistics.”

In South America, all of ASO’s key vehicles were effectively doubled, so while a group of vehicles was moving from, say, stage one to stage three, the second half was heading to stage two and then stage four and so on to allow a consistent bivouac setup.

“Saudi Arabia has organized several top entertainment events but mainly in stadiums,” Castera explains. “The Dakar, on the contrary, is nomadic. To be on the safe side, as this is the first edition, we tripled all the key vehicles. All the logistics that were in South America remained there. We shipped vehicles from Dubai and mainly from Marseille.”

In total, the organization moves 80 cars, 50 trucks, 10 helicopters, 8 planes, and 15 buses. Medical service includes one mobile hospital at the bivouac and several tents on the race course, doctors and other personnel, four medicalized helicopters, eight “tangos”—the car on track with two onboard doctors—and one doctor for each “balai” (sweep) truck.


Jean-François Tady is responsible for the rally’s safety procedures. He operates at the PC Course, the “heart” of the organization machine. “The relatively few hours of light that we have are the biggest challenge this year,” he admits.

“The sun rises around 7:30 a.m., and sunset is at 5:30 p.m. This means we will have many competitors on the special stages at night.” As a result, most of the “tangos” were moved toward the end of the stages for a fast intervention in case of an emergency in the dark when the helicopter cannot fly.


Tady explains the safety logistics for the rally: “Each vehicle is equipped with two buttons: green means mechanical failure, and red is a request for medical assistance. The alarm arrives at the PC Course on track and in Paris. From Paris, they call the competitor immediately to evaluate the emergency. If, for any reason, it’s not possible to qualify the request, we send straight away the intervention. The average intervention time is 14 minutes, also during the night. It’s a very good standard considering that the stages can go up to 500 kilometers.”

“The cold nights are another challenge with the temperatures dropping to minus 3 at night,” Castera adds, “but this is what was happening in Africa. On the contrary, it can be up to 30 degrees Celsius during the day. You need to be prepared. The riders, for example, leave very early in the morning when it’s still dark. They have to be equipped with racing gear and gloves with batteries for heating.


As for the staff, Castera supervises an organizational machine that counts around 500 people out of the 2,500-3,000 folks of the Dakar caravan. They are mainly veterans who come mainly from France, Spain, Italy but also Argentina. At the moment the number of local people is limited, but the idea is to form them as A.S.O. did in South America.


“All in all, I think it will be a very special Dakar and a life-time experience,” Castera concludes. “The desert reminds us of Africa and changes constantly—color, sand, dunes. People will be surprised what this country can offer.”