The world's most gruelling motorsport event is nearing its final stages. The 9,500km-long route of the 2016 Dakar Rally runs through Argentina and Bolivia – much of it across 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.

Photographers Dean Mouhtaropoulos, Marcos Brindicci 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 2016 Dakar Rally.

Twelve spectators were injured, two of them seriously, when Guo Meiling, the first-ever Asian woman to compete in the rally, careered off a road and crashed into the crowd during a prologue stage to determine the order for the first proper day.

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2 January 2016: Competitors from the Bonver Dakar project team arrive on the podium wearing chimpanzee masks during the symbolic start of the 2016 Dakar Rally in Buenos AiresEitan Abramovich/AFP
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2 January 2016: A drone photographs Ronan Chabot and co-driver Gilles Pillot as they take part in the prologue stageFranck Fife/AFP
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2 January 2016: Gordini driver Robby Gordon and co-driver Kellon Walch compete during the 11km prologue stageFranck Fife/AFP
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2 January 2016: Santosh Shivashankar Chunchunguppe of India rides his Suzuki through the water during the prologue stage in Arrecifes, ArgentinaMarcos Brindicci/Reuters
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2 January 2016: A rainbow forms as Mini driver Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar guides his car through the water during the Buenos Aires-Rosario prologue stageMarcos Brindicci/Reuters
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2 January 2016: Guo Meiling of China loses control of her Mini in Arrecifes, ArgentinaReuters
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2 January 2016: A spectator is evacuated in a helicopter after Chinese driver Meiling Guo crashes into the crowd in her MiniFranck Fife/AFP

The first stage proper was cancelled because bad weather meant helicopters could not fly. Rain also turned parts of the route into rivers of water.

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3 January 2016: A helicopter flies over a flooded area between Rosario and Villa Carlos Paz after poor weather forced the cancellation of the Dakar Rally opening stageFranck Fife/AFP

Nine-times WRC champion Sebastien Loeb of France won stage two of the Dakar Rally to take the overall lead and established a two-minute, 23-seconds lead over his team mate and compatriot Stephane Peterhansel. Defending champion Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar lost time after a puncture in his Mini and finished the stage four minutes and 18 seconds behind Loeb. Spain's Nani Roma, who won the Dakar Rally in 2014, lost more than 45 minutes after getting his Mini stuck in the mud. In the bike category, Toby Price of Australia won the stage in a time of 3 hours, 46 minutes and 24 seconds on his KTM. Cesar Julio Estanguet of Argentina was evacuated by helicopter after breaking his leg.

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4 January 2016: Mini driver Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar and co-driver Mathieu Baumel of France compete during the second stage, which was won by Peugeot's French driver Sebastien Loeb ahead of Peugeot's Stephane Peterhansel and Toyota's Vladimir VasilyevFranck Fife/AFP
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4 January 2016: Cesar Julio Estanguet of Argentina is attended to by spectators after breaking his leg near Dean Funes, ArgentinaDean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
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4 January 2016: Cesar Julio Estanguet of Argentina is evacuated by helicopter after breaking his legDean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
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4 January 2016: Robby Gordon and Kellon Walch of the United States ask spectators to help them out of the mud near Dean Funes, ArgentinaDean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
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4 January 2016: Spectators help to clean the windscreen of Xavier Pons of Spain and Adrian Ricardo Torlaschi of Argentina's Ford Ranger after getting stuck in the mudDean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
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4 January 2016: Nazareno Cristobal of Argentina and Sergio Lafuente of Uruguay drive their Mini through the mud between Villa Carlos Paz and Termas de Rio HondoDean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
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4 January 2016: Cameraman Eric Falaizeau is covered in mud while filming the action between Villa Carlos Paz and Termas de Rio HondoDean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
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4 January 2016: Mini driver Nani Roma of Spain reacts covered in mud next to co-driver Alex Haro Bravo at the end of the second stage in the Dakar Rally 2016 in San Francisco, ArgentinaMarcos Brindicci/Reuters
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4 January 2016: Clouds are reflected in a salt lake during the 2016 Dakar Rally Stage 2 between Villa Carlos Paz and Termas de Rio Hondo in ArgentinaFranck Fife/AFP

Sebastien Loeb strengthened his position in the Dakar Rally after winning stage three from Termas Rio Hondo to Jujuy. Spain's Carlos Sainz, also driving a Peugeot, finished the stage 1 minute, 23 seconds behind Loeb. Defending champion Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar made up ground in his Mini and was third on the day, two seconds slower than Sainz. In the bikes section, Kevin Benavides of Argentina clocked a time of 2 hours, 31 minutes and 3 seconds on his Honda to win the stage. Stefan Svitko of Slovakia, who finished the day in fourth place, led the overall standings by 34 seconds from Benavides.

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5 January 2016: Spectators cheer and take selfies as Erik Van Loon and Wouter Rosegaar from the Netherlands compete during Stage 3 of the 2016 Dakar RallyFranck Fife/AFP
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5 January 2016: KTM rider Laia Sanz of Spain competes on day three between Termas de Rio Hondo and Jujuy in ArgentinaDean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Stephane Peterhansel won stage four of the Dakar Rally to move up to second place in the overall standings. His Peugeot teammate Carlos Sainz finished 11 seconds behind to claim second place. Overall rally leader Sebastien Loeb finished the stage in third position. In the bikes section Portugal's Paulo Goncalves finished the stage in first place after Joan Barreda of Spain was penalised for speeding, moving him to top of the overall standings, ahead of second-placed Benavides.

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6 January 2016: Robby Gordon and Kellon Walch of the US compete during Stage 4 of the rallyDean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
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6 January: Uladzimir Vasileuski, Dzmitry Vikhrenka and Aliaksei Neviarovich of Belarus attend to their Maz truck after it broke down near Purmamarca, ArgentinaDean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Former world rally champion Sebastien Loeb of France won the fifth stage, extending his lead in the overall standing with Spain's Carlos Sainz and Stéphane Peterhansel of France making it a day of Peugeot domination. In the bike category, Australia's Toby Price took the stage honours on his KTM to move up to third place in the standings behind Portugal's Paulo Gonçalves, who finished the stage 12th, and Stefan Svitko of Slovakia.

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7 January 2016: Erik Loon and Wouter Rosegaar of the Netherlands go airborne in their Mini on day 5Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
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7 January 2016: Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar and Matthieu Baumel of France compete in their Mini during Stage 5, from Jujuy in Argentina to Uyuni in BoliviaDean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Frenchman Stephane Peterhansel of Peugeot took advantage of technical problems suffered by his rival Sebastien Loeb as he won the sixth stage of the 2016 Dakar Rally and moved into the overall lead, 27 seconds ahead of Loeb. Spaniard Carlos Sainz finished second in the stage through the scenic salty desert landscape of Bolivia's Uyuni region. In the motorbike category, Australian Toby Price finished over a minute ahead of the field, leaving him second in the overall standings behind Paulo Goncalves from Portugal.

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8 January 2016: Antoine Meo of France rides his KTM bike near Uyuni, BoliviaDean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
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8 January 2016: Chilean biker Pablo Quintanilla powers his Husqvarna during Stage 6 of the Dakar 2016 around Uyuni, BoliviaFranck Fife/AFP
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8 January 2016: Austrian biker Matthias Walkner rides past the Salar de Uyuni, the world's largest salt flat, located in Bolivia near the crest of the Andes some 3,650 metres above sea levelFranck Fife/AFP
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8 January 2016: Peugeot's French drivers Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena repair their car during Stage 6 around Uyuni, BoliviaFranck Fife/AFP
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8 January 2016: Husqvarna rider Ruben Faria of Portugal receives medical attention after a fall near Uyuni, BoliviaFranck Fife/AFP
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8 January 2016: Australian rider Toby Price powers his KTM near Uyuni, BoliviaFranck Fife/AFP

Spaniard Carlos Sainz claimed victory in the short seventh stage but his Peugeot teammate Loeb remained top of the overall rankings with his second-placed finish. In the bikes section, France's Antoine Meo claimed his maiden Dakar rally victory. The second timed section was cancelled following severe thunderstorms that caused flooding across much of the route, which ran from Bolivia's Uyuni to Salta in Argentina. Austrian Matthias Walkner suffered an injury following a crash and left the race with a broken femur. A 63-year-old man was killed when French competitor Lionel Baud collided with him.

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9 January 2016: Ronan Chabot of France drives his Toyota near Uyuni, BoliviaMarcos Brindicci/Reuters
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9 January 2016: Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar drives his Mini into a puddle near Uyuni, BoliviaMarcos Brindicci/Reuters
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9 January 2016: KTM's Austrian biker Matthias Walkner competes during Stage 7 of the Dakar 2016 Rally between Uyuni in Bolivia and Salta in ArgentinaFranck Fife/AFP
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9 January 2016: Stefan Svitko of Slovakia rides his KTM across water during the seventh stage in the Dakar Rally 2016 near Uyuni, BoliviaMarcos Brindicci/Reuters
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9 January 2016: Toby Price of Australia is reflected in the water as he rides his KTM during the seventh stage of the Dakar Rally 2016 near Uyuni, BoliviaMarcos Brindicci/Reuters

After a rest day, the rally entered its second week and a change of terrain as loose sand, including dunes and rocky passes, took over. The 2010 Dakar Rally winner Carlos Sainz pulled ahead of defending champion Nasser al-Attiyah, who still retained the overall lead. Sebastien Loeb rolled his car but managed to right it and continue. In the bikes section Toby Price of Australia took over the overall lead, ahead of Honda rider Paulo Goncalves, who crashed but continued.

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10 January 2016: A mechanic works on a vehicle during a rest day of the 2016 Dakar Rally in Salta, ArgentinaFranck Fife/AFP
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11 January 2016: Peugeot's French driver Sebastien Loeb is helped to put his overturned car back on its wheels during Stage 8 of the Dakar 2016 between Salta and Belen, ArgentinaAndre Lavadinho/AFP
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11 January 2016: Oliver Pain of France rides his KTM during the eighth stage of the Dakar Rally 2016 near Cafayate, ArgentinaMarcos Brindicci/Reuters
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11 January 2016: Orlando Terranova and Bernardo Graue of Argentina power their Mini over loose ground near San Rafae Salta, ArgentinaDean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
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11 January 2016: Honda's French biker Adrien Metge competes during Stage 8 of the Dakar 2016 between Salta and Belen, ArgentinaFranck Fife/AFP
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11 January 2016: Carlos Sainz of Spain drives his Peugeot past Hans Smit of Netherlands on his Husqvarna motorcycle during the eighth stage of the Dakar Rally 2016 near Cafayate, ArgentinaMarcos Brindicci/Reuters

Carlos Sainz won the ninth stage which was shortened because of extreme heat, giving him an overall lead of seven minutes, three seconds over Peterhansel. Sainz finished in two hours, 35 minutes, 31 seconds, just ten seconds ahead of Dutchman Erik Van Loon in a Mini. Sebastien Loeb's troubles continued when the Frenchman's car became stuck in the sand. In the bike category, Australian Toby Price on a KTM comfortably won the stage by over seven minutes from Kevin Benavides of Argentina on a Honda. Price now had an overall lead of 24:47 from Stefan Svitko of Slovakia.

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12 January 2016: Yamaha rider Helder Rodrigues of Portugal gestures to a helicopter casting its shadow over him during the ninth stage of the Dakar Rally 2016 near Belen, ArgentinaMarcos Brindicci/Reuters
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12 January 2016: Antoine Meo (top) of France rides his KTM ahead of Juan Pedrero Garcia (C) of Spain on his Sherco TVS and Adrien Van Beveren of France on his Yamaha during the ninth stage of the Dakar Rally 2016 near Belen, ArgentinaMarcos Brindicci/Reuters

A lorry driver was killed in the second fatal accident linked to the 2016 Dakar Rally on Tuesday 12 January, although it took place far from the Andean province of La Rioja where the race was in its ninth stage. The death occurred when the support truck transporting the Mitsubishi car of French competitor Lionel Baud was involved in a crash with a lorry in the Argentine province of Cordoba. Baud had already departed for France after running over and killing a 63-year-old spectator in an accident in Bolivia two days earlier.

This is the 65th death linked to the annual endurance event, which was first staged between France and Senegal in 1979 before being moved to South America for security reasons seven years ago.

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12 January 2016: Photo shows an accident in a highway in Juarez Celam department in Cordoba, Argentina, which involved six vehicles and caused the death of a man and left six injured. A Dakar Rally assistance truck which was transporting Lionel Baud's car was involvedIrma Montiel/AFP
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12 January 2016: The car driven by French competitor Lionel Baud in which he collided with and killed a 63-year-old man in Bolivia, was involved in another accident that caused the death of another man and injured six othersIrma Montiel/AFP

Carlos Sainz's Dakar Rally appeared to be over on Wednesday 13 January when his charge was halted by a gearbox problem. It is the second year in a row the veteran Spaniard has suffered frustration in South America after crashing out in 2015 as well when ahead. Stephane Peterhansel, who has won multiple Dakar titles on both bike and car, swiftly took advantage of Sainz's misfortune, the Frenchman winning the stage and taking the overall lead. In the bikes section, Stefan Svitko won his first-ever Dakar stage, ahead of race leader Toby Price and Kevin Benavides.

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13 January 2016: Peugeot's Spanish drivers Carlos Sainz Lucas Cruz check their car after a mechanical failure during Stage 10 of the 2016 Dakar Rally between Belen and La Rioja, ArgentinaFranck Fife/AFP

The 2016 Dakar Rally will end in Rosario in Argentina on 16 January.