In the midst of the excitement of its 43rd edition, sad news has emerged from the Dakar world as pioneering motorcycle racer and former rally director Hubert Auriol has died aged 68.
Auriol reportedly passed away yesterday, Sunday 10th January, ‘from a cardiovascular accident following a long battle against the disease,’ his family said. Further reports have revealed that he was undergoing treatment for the Coronavirus at the time of his death.
L’Africain, as the Ethiopian-born Frenchman was known – both for his birthplace and his prowess on the Saharan pistes – was the first pilot to win the Dakar Rally on both two wheels and four. He competed in 16 consecutive Paris-Dakars between 1979 and 1994, the first nine aboard on a motorcycle, followed by seven in a car. To date, he still holds the record for the most motorcycle stage wins in one Dakar – 9 – with a combined total of 37 stage wins across his career.
Auriol’s debut victory came racing a BMW R80G/S for BMW France in 1981, before he repeated the feat in 1983 (and took second place the following year). While leading the rally on the penultimate day of the 1987 edition, he broke both ankles, only to make an incredible comeback and set a record (as part of a four-man team) for the fastest world circumnavigation aboard a propeller airplane (in 88 hours and 49 minutes).
His switch to four wheels came the following year, and Auriol displayed the same talent and sheer determination behind the wheel. In an era where the Dakar was often seen as ‘death or glory’, Auriol chased the latter, becoming the first pilot to win both the motorcycle and car categories in 1992, when he won the 7,722-mile Paris-Cape Town Rally for Mitsubishi.
When his racing career ended, Auriol remained at the heart of rally raid, holding the position of Dakar director between 1995 and 2004, as well as co-founding the Africa Eco Race, which picked up where the Dakar left off when it moved to South America in 2009. From 2001, he presented the cult French reality game show, Koh-Lanta, which maroons contestants on a desert island, where they face survival and physical challenges.
During his lifetime, Auriol also won five cross-country rally championships, and was awarded both France’s National Order of Merit and, in 1995, the Légion d’Honneur.
Motorsport has lost a legend, the Dakar a true pioneer of its enduring spirit. Goodwood sends its sincerest condolences to his friends and family. Salut L’Africain.