The Dakar Rally is one of motorsport's most gruelling and most dangerous events. The 9,000km-long route runs through Argentina, Chile and Bolivia – much of it unmarked desert.

Four categories of vehicles (motorbikes, quads, cars and trucks) tackle an incredible variety of terrains, from deserts to mountain roads and flooded rivers to salt flats.

Several drivers have crashed out of this year's event, while a Polish motorcyclist died during the third stage from suspected hypothermia and dehydration. Michal Hernik's body was found about 300m from the route at the 206km mark of the stage.

Photographers Dean Mouhtaropoulos, Jean-Paul Pelissier and Franck Fife have been following the action, taking spectacular photos in very challenging conditions. IBTimes UK shares some of the best images from the first eight stages of the 2015 Dakar Rally.

Dakar Rally 2015
January 5, 2015: KTM rider Marc Coma of Spain prepares to start the second stage of the Dakar Rally 2015, from Villa Carlos Paz to San Juan in ArgentinaJean-Paul Pelissier/Reuters
Dakar Rally 2015
January 5, 2015: Michal Hernik and Pawel Stasiaczek of Poland compete during day two of the Dakar RallyDean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Dakar Rally 2015
January 5, 2015: A motorbike rider competes during the second stageJean-Paul Pelissier/Reuters
Dakar Rally 2015
KTM rider Jakub Przygonski of Poland rides during the second stage of the Dakar Rally 2015Jean-Paul Pelissier/Reuters
Dakar Rally 2015
January 5, 2015: Albert Llovera of Andorra drives during the second stage of the Dakar Rally 2015, from Villa Carlos Paz to San Juan in ArgentinaJean-Paul Pelissier/Reuters
Dakar Rally 2015
January 5, 2015: Ivan Jakes reacts at the end of stage two of the Dakar 2015Franck Fife/AFP
Dakar Rally 2015
January 5, 2015: Dutch biker Frans Verhoeven tries to cool down after finishing stage twoFranck Fife/AFP
Dakar Rally 2015
January 6, 2015: Marcel Van Vliet, Marcel Pronk and Artur Klein are pictured during stage three of the Dakar Rally, between San Juan and Chilecito, ArgentinaDean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Dakar Rally 2015
January 6, 2015: Zhong Lei and Ma Miao of China drive during day three of the Dakar RallyDean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Dakar Rally 2015
Polish biker Michal Hernik of KTM is pictured during the symbolic start of the 2015 Dakar Rally in Buenos Aires on January 3, 2015. Hernik was found dead of hypothermia and dehydration on January 6 during the third stage, between San Juan and ChilecitoAlejandro Pagni/AFP
Dakar Rally 2015
January 8, 2015: Motorbike riders race during the fifth stage of the Dakar Rally 2015, from Copiapo to Antofagasta, ChileJean-Paul Pelissier/Reuters
Dakar Rally 2015
January 7, 2015: Spectators watch Gerard Farres Guell of Spain tackle a dune during stage four of the Dakar RalllyDean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Dakar Rally 2015
January 7, 2015: Juan Pedrero Garcia rides over the top of a dune during day four of the Dakar RallyDean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Dakar Rally 2015
January 7, 2015: Jorge Lacunza of Argentina is helped by fans after getting stuck on the top of a sand dune during day four of the Dakar Rally between Chilecito in Argentina and Copiapo in ChileDean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Dakar Rally 2015
January 7, 2015: Argentine quad biker Sebastian Halpern chases his vehicle as it rolls down a sand duneDean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Dakar Rally 2015
January 7, 2015: Carlos Sainz and co-driver Lucas Cruz check their car after they crashed out of the raceFranck Fife/AFP
Dakar Rally 2015
January 7, 2015: A vehicle is seen during stage four, between Argentina and ChileFranck Fife/AFP
Dakar Rally 2015
January 8, 2015: Leeroy Poulter and Robert Howie of South Africa compete during stage fiveDean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Dakar Rally 2015
January 8, 2015: Riaan van Niekerk of South Africa rides near Altamira in Chile during the fifth stage of the rallyDean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Dakar Rally 2015
January 8, 2015: Marc Pedrola's hand is seen during the fifth stage of the Dakar 2015Franck Fife/AFP
Dakar Rally 2015
January 9, 2015: Chilean rider Pablo Quintanilla is seen in action during the sixth stage of the Dakar Rally 2015, from Antofagasta to Iquique in ChileJean-Paul Pelissier/Reuters
Dakar Rally 2015
January 9, 2015: Honda rider Joan Barreda Bort of Spain rides during the sixth stageJean-Paul Pelissier/Reuters
Dakar Rally 2015
Rafal Sonik of Poland rides his quad bike near Iquique in Chile during the sixth stageDean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Dakar Rally 2015
January 10, 2015: A competitor's vehicle is obscured by muddy water during stage seven, between Iquique in Chile and Uyuni in BoliviaFranck Fife/AFP
Dakar Rally 2015
January 10, 2015: Giniel De Villiers of South Africa drives during the seventh stage of the Dakar Rally 2015, from Iquique in Chile to Uyuni in BoliviaJean-Paul Pelissier/Reuters
Dakar Rally 2015
January 10, 2015: Juan Manuel Silva and Pablo Sisterna of Argentina crash in their Mercedes during the seventh stage of the Dakar RallyDaniel Rodrigo/Reuters
Dakar Rally 2015
January 10, 2015: Two men help Pablo Sisterna out of his wrecked Mercedes after crashing during the seventh stageDaniel Rodrigo/Reuters
Dakar Rally 2015
January 10, 2015: Spectators take a close look at the wreckage after Matthew Campbell of Canada crashed during stage seven of the Dakar RallyDean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Dakar Rally 2015
January 11, 2015: Stephane Henrard and Bruno Barbier of Belgium in the VW Volkswagen 3L wait at the start line on the Salar de Uyuni in BoliviaDean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Dakar Rally 2015
January 11, 2015: Drivers compete during stage eight, between Uyuni and IquiqueFranck Fife/AFP
Dakar Rally 2015
January 11, 2015: A competitor drives on Salar de Uyuni during the eighth stage of the rallyFranck Fife/AFP
Dakar Rally 2015
January 11, 2015: Maik Willems of the Netherlands drives on the Salar de Uyuni salt flat during the eighth stage of the Dakar Rally 2015Jean-Paul Pelissier/Reuters