NASCAR & Auto Racing

Officials want Dakar Rally to return in 2009, but aren't sure of route after terrorist threats

PARIS – Dakar Rally officials want the race to return in 2009, but aren’t sure of the route after this year’s event across the Sahara desert was canceled because of terrorist threats.

“We will do everything” for the 2009 rally to take place, French sports minister Bernard Laporte said on RMC-Info radio Thursday.

He argued for the rally to remain “on the African continent, without which there would be no Dakar (Rally).”

But ASO president Patrice Clerc, who heads the company that organizes the rally, was more cautious.

“We will not let Africa go,” he said in Thursday editions of sports daily L’Equipe.

“We will go very soon to Africa to talk of the future. But we will not play with security. The planet is vast enough to do 8,000 to 10,000 kilometers in 15 or 20 days in sandy zones.”

He said other desert zones in Africa or on other continents could serve as an alternate route. The Chilean government plans to submit a proposal next week to the ASO.

Laporte plans to meet Friday with managers of the ASO “to speak about it, to find solutions,” he said.

He called the event “the world’s most beautiful rally” and “an integral part of the French and African sports heritage.”

The race was canceled last Friday because of threats from al-Qaida-linked militants, a day before the roughly 550 competitors were to embark on the 16-day, 5,760-mile trek from Europe to Senegal in west Africa.

It marked the first time the 30-year-old rally, one of the biggest competitions in car racing, was called off.