There is always an element of danger in rallies and car racing. Speed, uneven terrain, demanding weather, it is easy to slip up and end up in a ditch – hopefully unharmed. But some rallies are definitely more dangerous than others and require expertise and serious technical skills – and some would say, a death wish!
King of the Hammers
The King of the Hammers was started by two friends in a bar in 2007, with the fine details being planned on a cocktail napkin! It takes place every year in February on Means Dry Lake in Johnson Valley, a desert valley in southern California, and has gathered a strong following.
It combines stretches of desert and rock areas and is only recommended for so-called Ultra4 vehicles capable of achieving speeds of 160km/h (100mph) as well as handling rock crawling. Each vehicle taking part is custom built by its team.
Vehicles leave in pairs every 30 seconds, and must go through 7 check points while staying within 100m of the centreline of the course. Participants must complete the 265km (165 miles) course in less than 14 hours.
The Rainforest Challenge takes drivers over 800km (500 miles) of the most challenging terrain in Malaysia. A 5-night 6-day event, the vehicles go through mud, pouring rain, gullies and raging rivers, and have to negotiate landslides. Add to this the high level of humidity, leeches and flies and having to unstick your vehicle from tropical mud regularly, and you will understand why it is one of the most demanding races in the world.
It took its inspiration from the Camel Trophy and is structured around a number of special tasks such as extreme winching, mud crossings, making your way through dense forest, rock crawling and night wheeling.
The Nürburgring 24
Like the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Nürburgring 24 is about racing around a circuit for 24 hours in central Germany. The 25km (15 miles) route is a combination of Nordschleife and Grand Prix Circuit and has become legendary. It usually gathers 200 vehicles and, although it is advertised as a circuit for amateurs, the standards have risen so much that it has nothing to envy professional races.
With its countless corners, the circuit is very demanding technically, so add a swarm of roaring racing cars not really knowing when the next corner is coming but competing fiercely for a position and you will get an idea of what the race is like.
Pikes Peak International Hill Climb
This race is also known as the more poetic ‘Race to the Clouds’ and is set in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.
The race has been taking place since 1916 and accepts an eclectic range of vehicles: cars, trucks, bikes and quads, everybody is welcome! There are usually around 130 competitors racing the 20 km (12 miles) of the circuit and vying for a place on the podium. It doesn’t sound like much of a challenge, but here are a few more numbers that are going to change your mind: it counts over 150 turns, climbs from an altitude of 1,440m (4,720 feet) at the starting point to 4,300m (14,110 feet), on hill grades averaging 7.2%. The route used to be a mix of gravel and paved sections, but it was fully paved in 2011 – yet, somehow, this has only made the driving conditions worse.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans
The 24 Hours of Le Mans is the oldest endurance sports race in the world. As its name suggests, it takes place over 24 hours near the town of Le Mans, France and is held in June, which sometimes exposes drivers to really unpleasant conditions in the cockpit – think being in a small confined space with little ventilation and next to a very hot engine in warm summer temperatures.
The Mulsanne Straight where cars can reach speeds of 400km/h (250mph) makes it one of the most dangerous races in the world and there have been over 80 deadly crashes.
The Dakar Rally
Formerly known as the Paris-Dakar, this off-road race has been running since 1978. Competitors have to go through tough terrain such as sand dunes, camel grass, rocks, ergs and mud. Each stage covers between 800 to 900 kilometres (500–560 miles) per day.
Due to the political instability of the region, it was considered too dangerous to continue running it through North Africa so it was relocated to South America in 2008. The race hasn’t got any easier though, and it still claims lives every year.
The Baja 1000
The Baja 1000 takes place in Mexico's Baja California Peninsula. Various classes of vehicles are allowed from buggies to truck and custom-made creations.
It is a unique race in the sense that, in case it wasn’t tough enough already, competitors also have to contend with spectators booby-trapping the route! Racers are warned about holes, blocked river flow and hidden obstacles. They are not created maliciously, quite the contrary: locals think it will make the race more interesting for the drivers – okay, and possibly a better spectacle for them.
Those obstacles are actually incredibly dangerous and have caused damages to people and vehicles and it is customary for drivers to radio each other throughout the day to share the location of those hazards.
No wild horses involved in this race, which doesn’t make it any less arduous. No other race in the world has an abandon rate as high as this one. An endurance race for motorcycles, it involves racing up the slope of a working mine in the Austrian Alps. In 2012, 500 riders took part, and only half a dozen finished; the year before, only 9 bikers did!
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