Rallying: Dakar chief evokes Africa return, but not to wild west

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The Independent Online

Dakar rally chief Etienne Lavigne said Tuesday he would not rule out the world famous race returning to Africa, but in the east or south rather than its traditional home in the west of the continent.

In 2008 organisers decided to cancel the event, being raced from Lisbon to Dakar, following the murder of four French citizens and three Mauritanian soldiers only a few days before the scheduled start.

Uncertainties over security in the western Sahara prompted organisers to stage the 2009 race exclusively in South America, taking in Argentina and Chile for what turned out to be a successful and trouble-free edition.

Although the 2010 race will follow a similar route, a return to Africa in 2011 - where organisers have held talks with officials from the east and southern parts of the country - has not been ruled out.

"We've worked hard this year in South America but we've also been looking at possibilities in southern Africa and the east of the continent," said Lavigne.

"Alternating the race between both continents is something we could realistically consider."

Lavigne, however, was keen to focus his attention on the huge success of the 2009 edition, which according to organisers ASO (Amaury Sport Organisation) attracted 600,000 fans for the start in Buenos Aires.

Next year's edition will also start and end in the Argentinian capital, with one main addition to the race route - the Atacama desert.

A virtually rainless plateau to the west of the Andes mountains on the Pacific coast, the Atacama is, according to NASA, National Geographic and many other publications, the driest desert in the world.

"We skirted around the Atacama last year, and spent two days there. This time we'll be spending a week going through it," added Lavigne.

The 2010 edition runs from January 1 to January 16.