These are some of the world’s most extreme races from all corners of the world that push both the driver and their car to the absolute limit. Drivers from around the globe put themselves and the vehicle to the test in some of the most dramatic landscapes and unforgiving terrain for the love of the sport. Think Formula 1, and then some.
Andre Lagache and Rene Leonard won the first 24 Hours of Le Mans race back in May 1923, driving their 3 litre Chenard & Walcker. Previously called the Grand Prix de Vitesse et d’Endurance, or Grand Prix of Speed and Endurance, Le Mans has become one of the most famous and glamourous races in the world.
The winners of the race are the drivers who manage to travel the greatest distance in the allotted 24-hour period. This is a gruelling endurance race that pushes the physical and mental capabilities of the drivers to the limit, as well as the cars, with the world’s leading manufacturers developing ever more advanced cars to win the coveted competition.
When you are looking for the world’s most extreme races, the thought of a race that means you are driving through the African wilderness past elephants and lions warrants being classed as extreme. This race spawned from the loss of the Safari Rally from the FIA World Rally Championships in 2002. Rally enthusiasts, including Mike Kirkland, were dedicated to reintroducing a race course to this corner of the world.
The result? The East African Safari Rally. Entrants must only enter the race in a pre-1974 car, as to remove the use of either turbocharged or four-wheel drive vehicles. 53 entrants competed in the first rally back in December 2003, which ran for 5,000 kilometres through Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania over ten days.
We’ve all seen off-roading, but this rally takes things to whole new level. From dry desert, to powder-like dust tracks that create dense clouds, thick jungle and flat savannah plains, entrants battle against the conditions, 50 degree heat and of course, the local wildlife.
The history behind the Dakar Rally begins in 1977 during the Abidjan-Nice Rally, when Thierry Sabine became lost while riding his motorbike. Eventually rescued, Thierry couldn’t shake the spectacular landscape and demanding extremes of the area and sought to share it with as many people as he could.
He designed a route which began in Europe and ran through Algiers, crossing Agadez and finished in Dakar. An event generated from an uncontrollable passion for adventure was born. In the thirty years that this extreme race has been running, countless stories and memories have been created, as teams and even strangers bond over this truly extreme race. Now the route runs through South America, after the previous route of Paris to Dakar in Senegal was adjudged to be too dangerous.
For anyone who has been inspired by the Dakar Rally and is now ready to go, be warned. Drivers have been known to suffer from heart attacks as they grapple with the extreme terrain.
Take to Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula in one of the most unforgiving and frankly dangerous motoring events on the planet. The Baja 1000 is the epitome of an extreme race. Anyone can enter their stock car, truck, custom racer, motorbike or dune buggy, but perhaps leave your new lease car at home.
Not only is this event held in a rugged dust pit which pushes your vehicle to the limit, but spectators are even allowed to booby trap the course. In the past there have been holes and pits dug, rivers blocked, obstacles placed for cars to run into and even hidden jumps and ramps built purely for the amusement of their creator. Though this just adds to the ‘charm’ of the race, apparently.
You can thank the Ekins brothers for this interpretation of a motorsport event. Back in 1962, Hollywood stuntman Bud Ekins was asked to test the new CL72 Scrambler by American Honda along a route of their choosing. This route was the 950 mile run from Tijuana and La Paz and has been modified and intensified over the years.
Booby traps, check. Intense weather, check. Demanding conditions, check. One of the world’s most extreme races? Without a doubt.
Every keen driver can share in the pleasure of a good road that climbs up the side of a steep hill or mountain. The sharp bends, spectacular vistas and adrenaline rush you get as you are driving your lease car is hard to quantify and replicate. Well, in Colorado the ordinary hill climb has been injected with a dose of insanity.
For 100 years, drivers have been heading to Colorado’s highest mountain to take part in the Pikes Peak Hill Climb. We were fortunate enough to speak to Chelsy Offutt, the Director of Communications at Visit Colorado Springs, who told us what made it so special: “It’s also known as the Race to the Clouds. Each year, the top drivers from across the globe travel to our region to take on the twists and turns of Pikes Peak – America’s Mountain. It is so unique in the fact that it is the second oldest automobile race in the country next to the Indianapolis 500.”
“In an area of immense natural beauty, you could forgive people for wanting to take it steady and admire their surroundings, but theses racers haven’t got time for that, as Chelsy explains: “The average visitor can drive the highway on their own, but often stick to speeds of 25-35, while these competitors reach speeds upwards of 200 mph. The beauty of the mountain, the intensity of the speed and no guard rails, and the full “speed week” of events that happen here are like nothing else.”
It makes for a truly brilliant, and certainly extreme race. There are so many elements to it, which can often go overlooked in a hill climb. But Exomotive’s Marketing and Sales Manager Taylor Perkins highlights how it is so much more than the track itself that the drivers need to consider:
“It's a special event, as it has been going on for over a century now (second oldest race series in the US), and involves a dynamic, ever changing, course. The hill climb aspect is so extreme due to the dramatic change in elevation. As you begin to summit, the air thins, sapping energy from your body, and robbing the vehicle of 30% of its power. There are 156 turns within 12.42 miles, all of which went mostly unpaved until 2011. At such height, the weather can change on a dime, so conditions are a constant roulette throughout the ascent. Even after several practice runs, it's impossible to know what to expect, as the culmination of these factors provides a different experience for every attempt, and a single mistake could be fatal.”
Over 14,000 kilometres, more than 100 years of history and a 100 cars are the ingredients for the Peking to Paris Motor Challenge. This is an endurance event that fully warrants the label or an extreme race.
Established in 1907 when Prince Borghese wanted to prove that “man and machine can now go anywhere, with frontiers proving redundant.” Today, little has changed. The Gobi Desert, Outer Mongolia, Uzbekistan and many more countries await, as drivers tackle a route that is as much an adventure as it is a race. It is open to anyone, from hardened veterans to complete novices looking for a thrill-ride, so long as you come with a car produced before 1976.
The Gumball 3000 celebrated its 21st anniversary in 2019. With just 100 spaces available at one of the most glamourous and lavish races on the planet, this is certainly one for the elite. It began life as an underground rally, but now it is one of the most famous races on the planet. Celebrities flock to the constant parties and celebrations, as well as enter the race itself, inspired by 1976 movie, The Gumball Rally.
It was Maximillion Cooper, a designer and race car driver, who arranged the first Gumball rally when in 1999 he invited 50 of his friends to take part in a 3,000 mile journey across Europe. Back then the entry fee stood at $8,700, as competitors lined up in their own supercars. Over the years the race has welcomed some incredible cars, including the A-Team van, the Batmobile, as well as the latest super and hyper-cars. Racers will start in London for the 20th anniversary in 2018 and race to the checker flag in Tokyo.
If you are tired of crawling through traffic, fed up with those Sunday drivers or just want an unforgettable adventure in some of the most beautiful places on Earth, then perhaps you should consider entering some of the world’s most extreme races.
* All vehicle images and car descriptions on this site are for illustration and reference purposes only and are not necessarily an accurate representation of the vehicle on offer.
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