Dakar : Last day of scrutineering
The last day of technical and administrative scrutineering, whose chief aim was to establish the list of competitors, attracted more than 60,000 spectators to the site of La Rural. The natives of Buenos Aires, like most Argentines and Chileans,
displayed enthusiasm on par with that of the 837 competitors, who, whether favorites or merely there to make up numbers, cannot wait to get started. The 500 vehicules line-up will be made of 217 bikes, 25 quads, 177 cars, 81 trucks.
It is perfectly normal that the prospect of taking part in the Dakar in South America gets the competitors excited to a certain degree. One of them, however, was blinded by this euphoria, or even over-confidence. Registered to take part in his first Dakar, Chinese rider Li Zhiheng quite simply forgot to bring biking overalls to wear on his KTM.
As if that absent-mindedness was not enough, he also arrived in Buenos Aires without the license issued by the international federation, which is essential for taking starter's orders for the rally. Alongside his two countrymen, Chen Jianguo and Wei Guanghui, both similarly lacking in paperwork, Zhiheng is now in a race against the clock to present the required license before the first stage of the race starts.
Apart from the Chinese trio, who could be worthy overall winners in the forgetfulness standings, all the competitors had, on the contrary, prepared for this event in minute detail. The best illustration is the case of the Mitsubishi team, which will be starting with four Lancer diesels.
The change in technology required almost two years of development, with just over 10,000 miles of tests. The tracks of Argentina will play host to the grand entrance of the Pajero's successor, after a successful run-out on the Baja at Porto Alegre.
Behind the wheel of these four prototypes, Peterhansel, Alphand, Roma and Masuoka are midway between the status of favorites or challengers. This time, their rivals at Volkswagen can point to greater experience with diesel engines. The German firm's drivers, sadly unused to lady luck smiling on them, could finally see the tide turn in their favor, especially since during preparation, the engineers responsible for the Race Touaregs of Sainz, De Villiers, Miller and Depping have apparently left nothing to chance.
From this parade of champions at the La Rural exhibition centre, it has been extremely difficult to pick out a clear favorite, nor even the leading car. Only American Robby Gordon, an exceedingly confident driver, is unhesitant in declaring outright victory as his sole objective. It remains to be seen if his Hummer is really capable of challenging the factory vehicles right throughout the rally.
On the bikes, the last two winners of the rally, Cyril Despres and Marc Coma, are sufficiently experienced in the discipline to exercise the necessary caution. As a result, their burning desire for triumph is systematically tempered by customary reserve and surprises that the race may hold in store. These types of incidents could be of benefit to David Frétigné, who is aiming to land himself a place on the podium for the first time, behind the handlebars of his 450cc Yamaha.
An initial idea of how the situation will pan out on the tracks should be apparent on Saturday, on the first stage leading to Santa Rosa. Between now and then, the riders and drivers will be testing their vehicles on a pedestal assembled next to the Obelisk in the majestic Plaza de la Republica, right in the middle of the Avenida 9 de Julio.