Racing on the World’s Most Dangerous Salt Flat

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Franck Fife / AFP / Getty Images

In January, some 160 motorcycle racers set off across Bolivia’s 4,000-square-mile Uyuni salt flat during the eighth leg of the 2015 Dakar Rally, the longest annual off-road endurance race in the world. The route traversed 5,800 miles of South America, from the coast of Argentina to the coast of Chile and back across to Buenos Aires via Bolivia. "It was a stunning contrast between the extreme cold of the salt flat and the mild temperatures near the ocean in Chile," says photographer Franck Fife, who shot the race from a helicopter. The rainy season covered sections of the flat with several inches of water, bringing near-freezing conditions and slowing the racers’ speeds to around 90 miles per hour. "Bikers were warming their hands beside their exhaust pipes," says Fife.

Since the rally’s inception in 1978, more than 25 competitors have died during the two-week event, and this year was no exception: Just six days before this photograph was taken, motorcyclist Michal Hernik died from dehydration and hyperthermia on a remote section of the course. Spaniard Marc Coma eventually won his fifth title in the race, but just finishing is hard enough. "The Dakar Rally is one of the most beautiful competitions to witness, from the breathtaking landscapes to the bonds that form between riders," Fife says. "Despite extreme physical fatigue, they always come together to help one another."