René Metge obituary: Three-time Dakar champion dies aged 82

The Dakar legend and long-time Porsche driver had a hugely successful career in motorsport

Rally Paris (FRA) – Dakar (SEN) 01-22 01 1986

On Wednesday, January 3, my colleague James Bowen pointed out the symbiosis between car and driver; that to think of one driver is often to think of them in relation to a very specific vehicle. Seeing Sébastien Loeb in a Toyota Corolla, rather than one of the many Citroëns he piloted in his two-decade career with the French marque, was odd.

But for René Metge, he achieved both. A career with such longevity that, while he helped build the legendary reputation of the Rothmans-adorned Porsche 911 and 959, he simultaneously had a reputation for driving pretty much anything, anywhere, any time.

His early forays into motorsport in the 1970s began with Formula Renault Europe, up against the cream of the French crop: Rene Arnoux, Patrick Tambay and Didier Pironi. He would go on to be an accomplished circuit racer, becoming French Touring Car Champion in 1982 driving a Rover 3500. And there were multiple attempts at the 24 Hours of Le Mans; Metge would score a class podium in, fittingly, a Porsche 911.

But it was the Dakar that Metge achieved his greatest success. The third edition of Paris-Dakar in 1981 was Metge’s first victory, aboard a bright rainbow-coloured Range Rover V8. But a switch to the factory Porsche squad would bring the biggest success.


Rally Paris (FRA) - Dakar (SEN) 01-22 01 1986

The Dakar’s route was expanded in 1984 and Jacky Ickx had brought the star power to the newly established Porsche works effort. But with all his rally-raid experience to bank on, it was Metge, in a 911, that would take the glory.

His third and final success was initially tinged with sadness: the passing of race founder Thierry Sabine along with four others in a helicopter crash overshadowed the 1986 race. But, in time, that success would cement Metge’s legacy: the blue and white Porsche 959 he piloted has become an icon of the rallying world.

There was one slight irony to that success too: Metge was a chain smoker but of Gauloises, rather than the Rothmans brand he helped make famous.

Rally Paris (FRA) - Dakar (SEN) 01-22 01 1986

He took a five-year break away from the Dakar but by 1994 he was back at the wheel, this time in the truck category. And over a decade later, he was still going. Metge entered the 2003 edition with his daughter Elodie as his navigator, then transitioned to being a co-driver; there were few people better to show World Touring Car champion Yvan Muller the ropes.

In total, Metge would win 13 Dakar special stages across his long career.

Metge died aged 82 on Wednesday, January 3.

Words:Alasdair Lindsay