The Africa ECO Race is an annual rally raid that starts in Europe and takes competitors on a journey through north-west Africa, tracking along much of the path of the original Paris-Dakar rally.
The event came about after the 2008 Paris-Dakar was abruptly cancelled one day before it was due to start amid fears of a terrorist attack in Mauritania. It was a big blow to rally teams and fans worldwide.
Organisers of the Paris-Dakar then moved the rally to South America in 2009 where it has been run for the last 11 years. For 2020 the Dakar Rally is being held in Saudi Arabia.
Two former winners of the Paris-Dakar Rally – Jean-Louis Schlesser and René Metge – felt that the teams, fans and indeed the communities of North Africa deserved a race true to the original spirit of the Paris-Dakar Rally.
And so the Africa ECO Race was born.
The 2020 rally is the 12th running of the event, and for the last 5 years it has started in Monaco – a legendary motorsports venue in its own right.
This year competitors will leave under lights on the evening of the 4th January and travel to the port of Savona in Italy. Here they will board a ferry and be transported over 2 days and nights to Tangier in Morocco.
Once in Morocco they begin their journey of nearly 6,500km through the amazing landscapes of Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania and Senegal. And for those who make it, they have the absolute honour of standing proudly on the podium at “Lac Rose” (Pink Lake) just outside Dakar, the spiritual end of the original Paris-Dakar.
Whilst the Dakar Rally is undoubtedly the best known and most prestigious rally in the world, many people feel that it has moved away from its original “roots”. But the Africa ECO Race aims to keep that original Dakar spirit alive for those who want to experience it.
Like all rally raid events, the Africa ECO Race is a long-distance off-road race that takes place over several days – 12 days in fact!
Competitors are supplied with a paper roadbook containing navigation instructions, normally the night before each stage, and never know the route until they receive that roadbook. It isn’t as accurate as the pace notes used in rallying, and there is never a chance for competitors to do an advance reconnaissance run.
Each stage is broken into one or more liaison stages and a timed special stage. The competitor who completes the special stage in the shortest time wins that stage, and times are accumulated to decide the overall winner of the rally.
Along the way competitors are required to pass through checkpoints and navigate to waypoints to ensure they are following the designated route. Missing a checkpoint or waypoint results in a time penalty that is added to their time for the special stage.
And while car drivers have a co-driver to navigate, bike and quad riders have to navigate on their own while riding. Concentration and multi-tasking skills are key factors in succeeding in the event!
But there are two significant things that set the Africa ECO Race apart from any other rally raid in the world – the spirit and comradery among the competitors and support crews, and the humanitarian benefits the organisers bring to the countries the event travels through.
There are no flashy hotels at night! The bivouacs are chosen far away from cities and the competitors find themselves all grouped together in the middle of the desert. So regardless of experience, skill level or team stature everyone shares the same experience during the rally. It works, and a feeling of solidarity, friendliness and mutual support encompasses the whole event just like the original Paris-Dakar.
From the outset, the event organisers also wanted to give back to the communities the rally travels through and to not leave harmful traces of the rally’s journey through the land.
The rally organisation has also created a number of projects to benefit the communities. A power project has seen solar panels installed in Mauritania to power a school in Nouakchott and a library in Chinguetti.
Some of the organisation’s vehicles are equipped with solar panels as well so they don’t draw from the local power grid or use a petrol generator, and waste motor oil is collected to be recycled in France after the race.
And the organisers have created a tree planting project in Nouakchott, the Mauritanian capital, where thousands of native trees have already been planted.
The Africa ECO Race has grown from humble beginnings, fuelled by the dream of two men to run an event that captures the original Dakar spirit and values, and operates in a way that is as environmentally friendly as possible. The 2020 event is now the largest on record – 34 nationalities are represented, overall participant numbers are up by 22% and motorbike competitors have increased by 81% – making the Africa ECO Race one of the biggest and most prestigious rally raid events in the world.
- Stage 1 – 7 January 2020: Tangier to Tarda (754km/24km special)
- Stage 2 – 8 January 2020: Tarda to Mahmid (333kms/330km special)
- Stage 3 – 9 January 2020: Mahmid to Oued Draa (516kms/498km special)
- Stage 4 – 10 January 2020: Oued Draa to Smara (404kms/385km special)
- Stage 5 – 11 January 2020: Smara to Dakhla (686kms/473km special)
- Stage 6 – 13 January 2020: Dakhla to Chami (559kms/177km special)
- Stage 7 – 14 January 2020: Chami to Aidzidine (478kms/478km special)
- Stage 8 – 15 January 2020: Aidzidine to Tidjikja (450kms/429km special)
- Stage 9 – 16 January 2020: Tidjikja to Tidjikja (469kms/415km special)
- Stage 10 – 17 January 2020: Tidjikja to Idini (600kms/500km special)
- Stage 11 – 18 January 2020: Idni to Saint Louis (473kms/187km special)
- Stage 12 – 19 January 2020: Saint Louis to Dakar (291kms/22km special)