The Paris to Dakar Rally, one of the most grueling auto rallies in the world, gets underway Friday with the first stage from Arras, France, to Chateauroux.
German driver Jutta Kleinschmidt looks to repeat her victory from 2001, but she will have to outdo a field of 434 racers in the automobile, motorcycle and truck categories.
The 24th edition of the rally covers a total of 9,438 kilometers but travels across only three African nations, Morocco, Mauritania and Senegal.
The rally has been marked in the past by controversy and tragedy, with fatal accidents marring the competition. There have also been threats from guerrilla groups in the disputed Western Sahara region.
Nearly one-half the competitors are French, with 80 percent of them amateur drivers. The motorcycle category is the largest with 170 entries compared to only 119 cars. The rally ends in Dakar, Senegal, on January 13.