The famous Dakar Rally begins this Saturday (January 6) in Lima, with the 40th running of the cross-country marathon through Peru, Bolivia and Argentina.
The Sahara desert and the rest day in Timbuktu are a distant memory now, as this is the 10th time the event has taken place in South America. It’s still a massive motorsport challenge, with 14 stages covering almost 3,000 miles and seven stages in nothing but sand dunes. And there is one element North Africa didn’t have – five days of competition at an altitude of more than 3,000 metres!
There is more than a little bit of a WRC feel to this year’s event. Sebastien Loeb, Mikko Hirvonen, Carlos Sainz, Nassar Al-Attiyah, Martin Prokop, Yazeed Al Rajhi and Nicolas Fuchs are all doing it – while the rally itself finishes in Cordoba on January 20; a very well known city (or at least the airport is) to all who have been to Rally Argentina.
They’ll be up against some legends of the Dakar, like Stephane Peterhansel, Nani Roma, Giniel De Villiers and Cyril Despres, in what will be a flat-out race across a large chuck of the Continent.
For Loeb, who is driving the 306 Peugeot 3008DKR Maxi on the 30th anniversary of Peugeot’s first Dakar Rally win (Ari Vatanen/Bernard Giroux in a Peugeot 205T16 Grand Raid in 1987), the nine time World Rally Champion reckons this might be his last chance to win the Dakar. Really?
“For me, it’s almost this year or never for the victory. It’s my last opportunity to win,” says Loeb. “Last year, we saw that we had the ability to win. Daniel [Elena] had done a good job at the navigation. It's motivating. We know we can do it and I go with the goal of winning, that's for sure.
“Now, there are many parameters that come into play on a Dakar. It's long and you quickly lose everything for not much, especially with the return of the dunes. It is positive for the rally compared to the image that people make of the rally-raid. On the other hand, it is a type of terrain on which I do not have much experience. This is clearly a course that is not in my favour. As for the car, it is more stable, more pleasant to drive, better cushioned. It gives us more confidence and we can attack a little stronger.”