Hubert Auriol, who won the Dakar Rally on three occasions between 1981 and 1992, has died following a lengthy illness at the age of 68.
Born in Addis Abeba in Ethiopa in 1952, Auriol plied his early Dakar days in the motorbike category, competing nine times and winning the event for BMW in 1981 and 1983.
Nicknamed “the African”, Auriol was a natural on the fast desert tracks of the Dakar and gained universal admiration in the 1987 edition following an epic rally-long duel with great rival Cyril Neveu.
The pair battled tooth-and-nail all rally, with Auriol crashing agonizingly close to the end on the penultimate stage, breaking both ankles.
Despite this, he made it to the finish broken and in tears as Neveu claimed victory.
Auriol then moved into the car category the following year, contesting the 1988 edition in a factory Mitsubishi Pajero T3.
He won the 1992 Dakar, which finished in Cape Town, South Africa with Mitsubishi before joining Citroën for 1993.
His final Dakar as a competitor came in 1994, marred by controversy when both Auriol and team-mate Pierre Lartigue by-passed a waypoint while the Mitsubishi duo of Bruno Saby and Jean-Luc Fontenay got stuck in the sand dunes.
Auriol still holds the record for the highest number of stage wins in one Dakar in the bike category (9) and has a total of 37 stage wins across the bike and car classes.
After retiring, Auriol joined Dakar organizer, the ASO, and was race director of the event between 1995 and 2004 before handing over to Patrick Zaniroli.
Auriol, who was also crowned cross-country rallies champion five times, was awarded the National Order of Merit and the Légion d’honneur in 1995.
Peterhansel leads tributes to Auriol
A number of current competitors paid their tributes to Auriol at the bivouac upon finishing Sunday’s stage seven of the Dakar, including former bike winners Stéphane Peterhansel and Cyril Desprès.
Speaking to French television station France 4, Peterhansel said Auriol inspired him as a young rider in the late 1980s.
“Hubert typified class,” he said.
“I think the whole of the rally raid world will shed a tear today. There are a lot of the newer generation who don’t know him, but I was one who discovered the Dakar because of him.”
Desprès was another to feel the impact of Auriol’s legacy on two wheels.
“He made us dream [of the Dakar],” said Desprès.
“The first time I arrived at BMW, Hubert’s bike was there, and it was incredible. I was just a kid when he was flat out in the African deserts in his duels with Cyril Neveu, which undoubtedly marked my childhood and my first steps into rallying. I am lucky enough to have met him on numerous occasions. A great man has left us.”
Current bike competitor and former Yamaha rider Xavier de Soultrait added: “he was the inspiration for me; he arrived as an adventurer rather than a competitor and then became a competitor. It’s incredible what he achieved, and he is an example for a lot of people I believe.”
Luc Alphand, who won the Dakar in a car in 2007 and who now works for France Télévision’s coverage of the event, said Auriol ‘had an aura about him’.
“I remember I had a tough time on my very first Dakar and he tried to help me through, to get me back on course,” Alphand said.
“He understood the race, we’re all here to get to the finish and complete the dream [of competing on the Dakar]. Hubert was someone who had an aura about him, when I met him in Saudi Arabia last year, there was something in his eyes that made it clear he was happy to see the competitors, to be in the bivouac and to soak up the atmosphere of the Dakar.”