Almost since automobiles first appeared in the late nineteenth century, people have loved to race them. The competitive spirit, the need for speed, the desire to see what the limits are of both the driver and his or her vehicle, these are intoxicating factors which has seen motor sports become some of the most enjoyed and financially lucrative around.
Over the years there have been many races for amateurs and professionals to take part in, many continuing to this day. Among the most common and popular are endurance tests – with drivers behind the wheel for hours at a time, or in shorter races but putting their vehicles through incredibly tough conditions to see what they can take. Epic races, across countries and often entire continents, are often the subject of legend among participants and spectators. Many of these races have been the subject of film, the high-speed thrills packed with incident and danger naturally providing rich territory for comedy and drama.
If you’re interested in watching a race, or taking part if you think you’ve got what it takes, then these are some of big-hitters:
Originally running from Paris to Dakar in Senegal, this famous off-road race began when the founder became lost in the desert and decided it would be a good place to have a rally. It has been the subject of much controversy over the years, mainly due to frequent accidents which have caused the deaths of drivers and local people. Notoriously, Mark Thatcher, son of the British Prime Minster, went missing in 1982 during the Algeria leg, eventually turning up unharmed. Due to security concerns the race currently takes places in South America.
Popularized by the Steve McQueen film, the Le Mans is the daddy of endurance races, a 24-hour marathon over 5000km, eighteen times the length of a normal Formula 1 race. Teams must balance the speed of the car with efficiency to make sure it lasts the distance, and three drivers must take turns in completing the course, stopping for rest breaks every couple of hours.
This open road race through Mexico has long been regarded as one of, if not the most, dangerous in the world. The six-day event originated to publicise the opening of a new highway, but was cancelled after 1954 due to worries over safety. Nevertheless it succeeded in showcasing the talents of some of the greats in modern car racing. In the late eighties the race was started again, with a new generation of drivers taking to the road. Their cars are often battered in appearance, but pack some serious muscle beneath the rough exteriors.
A classic British race which draws inspiration from the film The Gumball Rally, the 3000 is a round-the-world road race which takes a different route every time. At one point a North Korean stretch was mooted but abandoned. A sense of fun pervades, with unusual vehicles such as ice-cream vans and Citröen 2CVs, and many celebrities taking part.
Sadly the Camel Trophy has been inactive since 2000, but during its brief run this was one of the most hardcore and entertaining races going. Land-Rover expeditions crunched over hostile terrain in locations such as Siberia, Australia, the Amazon and El Salvador. Not only did it place extreme levels of pressure on the drivers and their support teams, but there were also many technical challenges to be completed en route before even crossing the finish line.
All fantastic fun of course, but if you’re not competitively-minded, or prefer to take things easy and enjoy the views, road-trips are great adventure holidays that allow you to enjoy some scenic views while still offering plenty of opportunity for escapades.