Rallying: Contest short on fuel

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THE Paris-Dakar rally, which starts on Friday, will field the smallest number of vehicles on record. Only 155 vehicles - 46 motorbikes, 66 cars and 43 lorries - will set off on the gruelling 8,887-kilometre (5,500-mile) trek to the Senegalese capital.

The rally will start from the French capital for the first time in five years. The departure, however, will hardly mirror the 1988 start when a record 603 entrantslined up.

New restrictions on tobacco advertising have meant many amateur drivers could not afford the expedition, but many have simply lost interest in the dollars 200m ( pounds 133m) enterprise.

Friday's prologue, from the Trocadero in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower to Chailley in northern Burgundy, is being viewed as a key test of the extent to which the controversial race - which has resulted in 31 deaths since it started in 1979 - still incites the enthusiasm of the French public.

Another major change this year is the destination of the race's finish. The rally ended in Cape Town last January but organisers have reverted to the traditional finishing point because of political turmoil in southern Africa. This will not affect the longest and toughest stage of the rally, the 1,191 kilometres (750 miles) between Tamanrasset and Adrar in the heart of the Sahara, where teams have to rely on their own navigational skills to guide them through the largely unmapped desert.

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