You know it’s the New Year when you flick on Eurosport of an evening and see some nutcase charging across a remote patch of desert in a truck. Or on a motorcycle.

Yes, it’s Dakar Rally time again.

I have to confess that I’ve always struggled to understand the attraction of events like this, which are right at the top end of motorsport’s risk scale, but right at the bottom end of its recognition scale. Which means you stand a rather-too-high chance of dying, with a rather-too-low chance of anyone hearing about it.

A few years ago I did follow a raid myself, in Tunisia. We dodged scorpions, got drunk listening to live blues at the bivouac, amused ourselves by getting up at daybreak and listening to the cacophony of farts coming from inside the various tents dotted around a field in, well, the middle of nowhere. The camaraderie was impressive, the organisation slightly flaky, and the promotion was non-existent. I spent five days trying to work out why anyone would want to put themselves through this in or on a motorised vehicle. And I failed.

Still, I will be tuning in occasionally and keeping an eye on the results of the Dakar, which starts in Lisbon on 5 January. In particular, I’m keen to see how Carlos Sainz gets on. In half a dozen years covering the World Rally Championship he was easily the most professional (and intense) individual that I met; perhaps if he wins rally raid’s biggest prize, it will help to improve its risk-to-reward ratio in Spain and beyond.

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