Well, the race doesn't actually go through Dakar anymore... you know, due to a slight issue with local militia groups... (I didn't want to use the T-word on my page).
VW video from 2011 Dakar, yes the music is atrocious
Clickable link -> http://youtu.be/3ouiI4jPefE
Dakar is an annual overland "rally-style" race of several different vehicle classes (from motorcycles to full-sized Trucks, by trucks think 4WD garbage trucks, no I'm not kidding) over all types of terrain, although its mostly desert. Originally the route was from Paris (sometimes Lisbon) to Dakar, Senegal.
From its wikipedia page:
Due to security threats in Mauritania, which led to the cancellation of the 2008 rally, the 2009 Dakar Rally was run in South America (Argentina and Chile). It was the first time the race took place outside of Europe and Africa. It has stayed in South America from 2009 to the present (2012). The race is open to amateur and professional entries. Amateurs typically make up about eighty percent of the participants.
Despite its name it is an off-road endurance race, called a rally-raid rather than a conventional rally – the terrain the competitors traverse is much tougher and the vehicles used are true off-road vehicles rather than the modified on-road vehicles used in rallies. Most of the competitive special sections are off-road, crossing dunes, mud, camel grass, rocks and erg among others. The distances of each stage covered vary from short distances up to 800–900 kilometres (500–560 mi) per day.
In summary, Dakar f***ing rules. Being stateside and the vast majority of racing coverage being NASCAR its not always easy to follow it. Despite this, The Versus network (Now called NBC Sports network apparently) has a good 30 minute synopsis each night of that days stages. Check it out!
Sources -> http://jalopnik.com/5872745/the-dakar-race-looks-pretty-much-like-a-post+apocalyptic-hellscape/gallery/?tag=dakar & http://www.dakar.com/index_DAKus.html & http://blog.roadandtrack.com/tags/dakar-rally/