The organizers of the 30th Dakar Rally canceled the 2008 edition of the event-scheduled to run Jan. 5-20 from Lisbon to Dakar, Senegal-for safety reasons.
The organizing body, the Aumory Sport Organisation (ASO), cited ``current international political tension'' and the murder of four French tourists Dec. 24 as reasons for the cancellation. The ASO also cited direct threats launched against the race by terrorist organizations.
The ASO said its first responsibility is ``to guarantee the safety of all: that of the populations in the countries visited, of the amateur and professional competitors, of the technical assistance personnel, of the journalists, partners and rally collaborators.''
As in the past, the 30th Dakar Rally would have covered more than 3,600 miles over 16 days through Portugal, Spain and northern Africa.
Group Michelin's BFGoodrich brand-by far the leading tire supplier to Dakar competitors-said in a prepared statement it supported the ASO's decision.
``It's obviously deeply regrettable for us along with everybody else that this classic event is not now going ahead,'' BFG Competitions Director Frederic Henry-Biabaud said in a prepared statement. ``But the ASO has taken this decision on the grounds of safety, so we can only respect it. The organizing body retains our full support for future years.''
BFG claims it was equipping more than 80 percent of the cars entered in the event.
Robby Gordon, principal owner of Team Dakar U.S.A.-the leading U.S.-based participant-called the cancellation a ``huge disappointment'' and said the organizers should have attempted to run an abbreviated event through areas deemed safe.
It would have been his fifth attempt at the Dakar. Last year he finished seventh in the event and managed to win one daily stage.
Mr. Gordon's off-road racing team is backed and supplied by Toyo Tire U.S.A. Inc., which said it had planned to step up its third year of sponsorship, tire supply and support of Mr. Gordon's attempt to win the grueling Dakar event. He had expanded his team by adding Ronn Bailey, a relative newcomer to the sport, in the two-car Team Dakar USA. Mr. Bailey, an entrepreneur, brought sponsorship from his company, Vanguard Integrity Professionals.
Messrs. Gordon and Bailey were to drive race-prepared Hummer H3s in the event and will do so in several other off-road events in 2008 in North America.
Mr. Gordon had not specified the budget for his Dakar challenge but said the race cars and support vehicles-two other off-road-prepped Hummers and seven service trucks-represented more than $3 million in value. Toyo provides tires for the race cars and the Hummers but does not yet have the proper sized off-road-type truck tires for the MAN and Mercedes support trucks.
The cancellation stymied other efforts as well.
Ramses Perez, project manager of events for Toyo Tire, had planned to travel with the tire maker's Dakar team, posting daily blogs with photos and videos from the event. Steve Hutchinson, Toyo's senior director of marketing, had called the activity ``a great opportunity for off-road fans to live vicariously through Ramses as he is embedded'' with Mr. Gordon and Team Dakar USA.
Meanwhile, to further its ``green'' environmental efforts, Yokohama Rubber Co. (YRC) Ltd. was supporting a bio-diesel-fueled car slated to participate in the rally. The venture, dubbed the OSU Dakar Rally Project, was launched in June 2006 mainly by Osaka Sangyo University (OSU) to raise awareness of the importance of environmental protection through motor sports, YRC said.
For the 2008 rally, race driver Ukyo Katayama was to have piloted a Toyota Land Cruiser 100 running on bio-diesel refined from used tempura (deep fry) oil. The Tokyo-based tire maker was providing the Katayama team with Geolandar A/T-S tires with Dakar Rally 2008 specifications. The tire, which features ``superior durability and abrasion resistance,'' the company said, also offers improved running performance through the use of a new material called ``Orange Oil.''
It was to have been the second Dakar team sponsorship for YRC, whose 2007 project team won the 68th place in the general category and the 19th place in its class after running the entire distance on 100-percent bio-diesel fuel.
The company said it has developed a variety of environmentally friendly products and promotes environmental activities at its production and office-work sites under the ``ecoMOTION'' slogan.