Two tyre specifications available for competitors
The 28th Dakar Rally, which is due to start in Lisbon on December 31, will take entrants on a 9,043km traverse of Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Mauritania, Mali, Guinea and finally Senegal where the event will end on the shores
of the Lac Rose. To reach this traditional finish ceremony location, the 508 competitors will have to rely principally on their road books. The organisers have effectively taken steps to restrict the use of GPS aids with a view to putting the onus back on traditional navigation skills and enhancing the role of the co-drivers. All the top runners have honed their preparation for this year's African classic with particular care and the 2006 Euromhiloes Dakar promises to be a very close and exciting thriller.
With twenty consecutive Baja 1000 victories, eight FIA Cross-Country World Cups and six wins on the legendary Dakar to its name, BFGoodrich Tires, producer of rally-raid's benchmark tyres, has this year produced two types of tyre for its partners: the Rock T/A (235/85 16), which has triumphed in the past two Dakars in association with Mitsubishi, plus the evolution All-Terrain T/A Comp (235/85 16). Given that the single tyre type ruling continues to apply this year, the different factory teams will have to choose just one of these tyres prior to the start.
"The single tyre type ruling and the outlawing of automatic inflation/deflation systems for 4x4 vehicles means that the work of BFGoodrich Tires has this year focused on the versatility of its products. The BFGoodrich Rock is suited to all the different types of terrain visited by the 2006 Dakar. However, crews must be extremely rigorous when it comes to adjusting their tyre pressure to match the type of surface they are actually driving over," underlines Aimé Chatard, BFGoodrich Tires' Rallies Programme Manager. "On rough ground, running with the 'ideal' pressure protects the tyre and its sidewalls, while for sand it is necessary to reduce air pressure in order to increase the size of the tyre-to-ground contact patch. Yet crews very often omit to re-inflate their tyres after crossing dunes or voluntarily run with low pressure over rough portions with a view to enhancing performance. But punctures are inevitable in this case."
Tyre and tyre pressure management
Dominique Bravy, BFGoodrich Tires Cross-Country tyre technician, also stresses the importance of running with the right tyre pressure: "Good tyre and tyre pressure management is vital in cross country rallying. The stages are long, the surface is often rough and the competitors get up to very high speeds. This causes tyre pressures to increase with distance. Now that cabin-mounted inflation/deflation systems have been banned, certain crews are tempted to take risks by running with low pressures. Yet at the beginning of a leg, the cars can be carrying as much as 500 litres of fuel plus four spare wheels. Running with such a heavy load, competitors need to inflate their tyres to the pressures recommended by BFGoodrich Tires' technicians, especially at the rear."
However, although onboard inflation/deflation systems continue to be outlawed in the case of 4x4 vehicles, they are still permitted for two-wheel drive cars. "This is undeniably a 'plus' for the two-wheel drive runners because they don't have to keep stopping to adjust the pressure of their tyres, an operation which can cost something like four minutes."
This year, BFGoodrich Tires has made the All-Terrain tyre – an evolution of the Rock – available for its partner teams. "The construction of the BFGoodrich All-Terrain Comp allows it to combine reduced rolling resistance on sand with greater precision. It's not a revolution, however; more an evolution," says Aimé Chatard. "In the world of cross-country rallying, testing is a difficult and complex business. In order to validate an evolution, you need to cover between 350 and 400km. This work generally takes place in Morocco where it is possible to work on different types of surface in the same basic area. The teams have worked hard to prepare for the 2006 event and the vehicles themselves have come on considerably. The technology we will see on this year's Dakar is of a very high level."
Rocks, wadis, dunes, camel grass… and the rest!
The total length of the 2006 Dakar is 9,043km, of which some 5,000km will be against the clock. It's a classic route which features all the usual challenges as competitors make their way between Lisbon and Dakar, including the rocky tracks and wadis of Morocco, the dunes and ergs of Mauritania and the camel grass and flats of Mali, while Guinea will see a switch to narrower tracks that wind their way through luxuriant vegetation. "The first two stages in Morocco could spring a surprise or two," warns Aimé Chatard. "The tracks are very rough and the drivers will be looking to size each other up as the rally gets into its swing, so the pace will no doubt be very quick."
Another likely challenge will be the marathon leg that the organisers have programmed during the second half of the event, between Bamako and Tambacounda. Although crews will be able to rest overnight in Labe, no work on the cars will be permitted. "Last year, the marathon leg was severely affected by a sandstorm, so we weren't able to get any feedback about tyres which will have to survive for 1,400km. That's a very tough challenge."
A clash between Mitsubishi and Volkswagen, with BMW and Schlesser-Ford waiting in ambush
With a record of ten Dakar wins to its name, including five in a row, Mitsubishi Ralliart once again stands out as the team to beat in 2006. As part of his and the team's preparation for the Dakar, outgoing, two-times winner Stéphane Peterhansel won last November's UAE Desert Challenge in style, while Luc Alphand, who finished 2nd in 2005, is becoming more and more competitive. This will be the former skiing champion's ninth Dakar and he won two rallies outright in 2005 (Tunisia and Portuguese Baja). Mitsubishi's ranks also include double Dakar winner Hiroshi Masuoka and former biker Joan Nani Roma.
Volkswagen has revealed its determination to win the 2006 Dakar by entering five Race Touareg 2s for Bruno Saby, who took three FIA Cross Country wins in 2005 to sew up the World Cup as early as last July, Jutta Kleinshmidt (2001 Dakar winner), two-times World Rally Champion Carlos Sainz, South Africa's Giniel De Villiers and Mark Miller from the USA, a choice line-up indeed to take on Mitsubishi's experienced squad. However, the BMW-X5s and the Schlesser-Ford Buggies (Jean-Louis Schlesser, Thierry Magnaldi, Josep Maria Servia) can also be expected to play a leading role again.
Competition from America
Although BFGoodrich Tires supply the majority of the 2006 field, the Dakar is not a 'control tyre' event. "We will be keeping a close eye on the performance of America's Robby Gordon. He's an extremely experienced off-roader and he will be driving a Hummer running on another brand of tyres," says Aimé Chatard. During the Dakar, individual teams are responsible for the transport of their own tyres (approximately 80 per vehicle, and mounted on rims prior to the start). Even so, additional supplies and fitting work (carried out on-site by Euromaster) is programmed in the course of the event.
Press Release BFGoodrich