Paris-Dakar 1986: dial 959
With the annual Dakar Rally having just been won by the legendary Carlos Sainz in a VW, I’m reminded of the year – almost a quarter of a century ago – when Porsche turned up in the desert with a trio of hi-tech supercars in the shape of 911-based, twin turbocharged, four-wheel-drive 959s.
Billed at the time as the world’s most sophisticated sportscar, the 959 rewrote the rule book, particularly in a rallying context. The car was a world away from the boxy, utilitarian workhorses synonymous with the Dakar. Range Rovers, Mercedes G-Wagens and Mitsubishi Pajeros had made the event pretty much their own since its inception in 1979, but not anymore.
Unsurprisingly, two of the three factory-fettled, Rothmans-backed 959s, driven by two-time former Dakar winner René Metge and legendary racing all-rounder Jacky Ickx, shot away at the start of the 1986 enduro and were never troubled en route to a famous one-two, led by Metge. A third car, driven by Porsche support engineer Roland Kussmaul, was delayed and eventually finished in sixth place.
The Frenchman, who won the event in 1981 and 1984, led almost throughout the three-week enduro in a largely untroubled display. Only during a final-leg drama, when his car became stuck in deep mud, did Metge and co-driver Dominique Lemoyne show any signs of concern.
“The mud was up to the doors,” Metge said. “We were pushing boards under the wheels and going forward a metre at a time. Finally someone came and pushed us out.”
Porsche’s overwhelming dominance of the eighth running of the Dakar – Metge beat Ickx by over an hour and a half, with the Belgian and his co-driver Claude Brasseur in turn finishing three and a quarter hours up on the third-placed Mitsubishi Pajero of Hubert Rigal/Bernard Maingret – was tinged with sadness following the death, earlier in the rally, of event founder Thierry Sabine in a helicopter crash during a desert storm.