Long wait is over as 2010 Dakar kicks off with massive support
More than 35 000 spectators witnessed the Dakar caravan in the heart of Buenos Aires for the past three days whilst the final inspection and approvals were done before the ceremonial start of the 32nd Dakar rally
from the La Rural exhibition centre. South Africa's Dakar legend, Alfie Cox, and his German co-pilot and team-owner of PS Laser Racing, Jurgen Schroder passed scrutineering and had an easy 317km drive to Colon, this afternoon, after passing through the streets of Buenos Aires lined by an estimated half-a-million people.
For the second consecutive year, the 9 000km Dakar Rally is held in Argentina and Chile. Rally director Etienne Lavigne said: "I expect this years' event to be a classic". As far as the competition amongst the cars is concerned, Lavigne said: "competitors' primary adversary will be the terrain" with 5 000km of special stages in the race before the finish back in Buenos Aires on 17 January 2010.
After a relatively smooth opening trio of stages the race will head into terrain in Chile which is the most unforgiving anywhere on the planet, not least the bone-dry Atacama desert, a lifeless, ultra-arid zone which is said to be 50 times drier than Death Valley.
Last year Carlos Sainz (Spain) lost the Dakar after an accident three days from the end. This year the race will be in the dunes from day three and so there could be large time gaps early on.
Great entertainment and contact with the public was arranged in the Dakar village over the past three days, ranging from handouts by sponsors to BMX and skateboard riders doing impressive stunts. One of the biggest efforts was that of the VW Amarok being put through its paces over a man-made obstacle course with some of the passages several metres above the ground. Public involvement, exposure and the magnificent support remaining one of the biggest factors to consider, if the organisers consider taking the race back to Africa.
The PS Laser Racing Team of Alfie Cox and Jurgen Schroder with their Navara passed scrutineering and lined up with the other teams today at 14:30 (19:30 SA time) after the first motorcyclist departed for the street exhibition and starting podium at the foot of the Argentinean Obelisk on their way out of Buenos Aires.
A very relaxed Cox said: "Glyn Hall did a great job and we are very confident about our car. We look forward to the race; at least the waiting around and the meetings are over, now we can spend two weeks in this four- wheel office and enjoy what we have worked for all year long." Racing in his third Dakar in a car, Cox hopes to collect his tenth finisher's badge this year. "I have had mixed success in the car category; in the BMW I finished tenth overall, in my opinion an excellent achievement, whilst we really battled last year in the two-wheel drive buggy. We know this car is capable of finishing on the podium, it has achieved top-five finishes, which in a way puts pressure on us, we would also like a good finish," remarked Cox in a somewhat more serious fashion. A total of 151 bikes, 134 cars and 52 trucks started the 2010 Argentina Chile Dakar Rally this afternoon.
KTM's Marc Coma (Spain) and Cyril Despres (France) are confident about their chances with the 690cc machines, even though they lose a lot of power on the big machines with air-intake restrictors required by the new rules. They will rely on their experience, knowledge and skill gained over the last ten years in the Dakar race. BMW, Yamaha, Aprilla and Sherco will do everything possible to put pressure on the KTM team with their new specification 450cc motorcycles.
In the car category "Volkswagen's other drivers are all very strong," said the South African, Giniel de Villiers, who won the race last year: "and then there are the drivers from BMW, Hummer and Mitsubishi. It'll be a tough race". Some critics feel that the 'no team-orders' rule in the VW camp could spell problems as team-mates Carlos Sainz (Spain), Nasser Al Attiyah (Qatar), De Villeirs, Marc Miller (USA), will try so hard to out- drive each other, that they could damage their cars or even crash out of the 17 day event.
Tough as the race is, the 44-year-old Stephane Peterhansel (France), a six- time winner on a bike and three-time winner in a car, cannot wait to do battle once more, he said: "Dakar is a passion," having threatened to retire, after quitting on stage seven last year. He joined BMW this year and says: "this is really different. This time I am with a team which has never won Dakar. Maybe I'm an outsider but in my head I'm up there with the favourites."
Tomorrow - Saturday, 2 January 2010
Colon > Cordoba
Tomorrow's first stage will feature several WRC-style high-speed tracks through the Calamuchita Valley and cars will tackle a 32km longer special stage than the bikes. The main reason for doing this is safety, keeping the bikes and cars apart on the high-speed dusty sections, improving visibility and preventing accidents.
A 349km liaison takes teams to the start of the competitive action and a shorter 84km liaison then guides crews into the overnight halt in Cordoba, situated in the foothills of the Sierra Chicas, 390 metres above sea-level, on the Suquia River; one of the oldest former Spanish colonial capitals.