Threats and murders in Mauritania cause the race to be cancelled for the first time.
|Robby Gordon in the familiar surroundings of NASCAR
NASCAR driver Robby Gordon says the cancellation of the Dakar Rally has cost him approximately $4.5 million and he disagreed with the decision not to race at least a portion of the event.
Gordon, who won stages of the race for the past three years and led the event in 2005, was in Portugal and preparing for the start when organisers cancelled it because of “direct” threats of terrorism from al-Qaida-linked militants.
Gordon said his team had built two cars for the event and had more than $1 million invested in each vehicle.
“I’m extremely disappointed,” he said.
“I can completely understand their decision not to go to Mauritania or not want to put competitors in an awkward or dangerous situation.
“That I understand 100 percent, but for them, with as many years as they’ve been doing this rally, not to have a backup plan? They just had no Plan B.”
About 550 competitors were scheduled to start last Saturday in the 16-day, 9,270-kilometre trek through remote and hostile dunes and scrub from Europe to Senegal in west Africa.
Organisers of the rally cited warnings from the French government about safety after the al-Qaida-linked December 24 slaying of a family of French tourists in Mauritania, where eight of the competition’s 15 stages were to be held, and “threats launched directly against the race by terrorist organisations.”
It was the first time that the 30-year-old rally, one of the biggest competitions in automobile racing, was called off.
Gordon said he believed the race course could have been altered, perhaps running to Morocco or back, or staying on the course in Portugal.
“All of the equipment was there,” he said.
“All of the teams were there. Television was set up. All of the stuff was done, and Portugal is not a dangerous area to race. It’s a safe country, it’s a beautiful country, and we had the permits to run on those roads and those trails. Some of it was military proving grounds, and we had what we needed to do to race there.
“Why didn’t we go to Morocco and run a few stages in Morocco?”
Gordon had planned to skip NASCAR preseason testing at Daytona International Speedway, but was at the track on Monday to drive his own car in the three-day session.
He said the decision to cancel Dakar led to “severe financial loss at Robby Gordon Motorsports.”
“An entry for the Dakar is $12,000 per person, not counting the vehicles,” he said.
“I think our entries were $360,000 and that’s just the entry fees. That’s not shipping trucks. That’s not flying people there. That’s not hotels in Lisbon. It’s a big deal, and it’s got me completely messed up right now in the head.
“Obviously, I’ll recover from it like I always do, but I’m just extremely disappointed on how a sanctioning body could not be better prepared.”