Preview: 2014 Dakar Rally
Thierry Sabine must have been a capital chap. Indeed, it takes a particular strain of madness to get completely lost in the desert and then, instead of swearing off the sandy stuff, decide to make it an annual affair. And bring some friends along as well. That's exactly what Sabine did - one year after he got completely lost in the sands of the Sahara Desert, he decided it would be a good idea to hold a rally in those very conditions. Thus the Dakar Rally was born in 1978 - a continent crossing adventure of the most grueling sort and certainly not for the faint of heart.
Eduard Nikolaev will be looking to take his Kamaz to victory in the truck class for a second year running
Now, 35 years later, things have changed. The original Paris-Dakar route has been long since dispensed with. In fact the Dakar Rally no longer even passes through the city of Dakar, now that the route has shifted from the sandy African Sahara to the dunes of South America's Atacama desert. But the other elements that go into making the Dakar one of the most exhausting, excruciating and grueling races in the world, still remain.
The 2014 edition of the Dakar Rally for a change won't kick off on New Year's Day, however, starting instead on the 5th of January, 2014. The rally will continue till the 18th of January, with the intrepid men in cars, trucks and on quad bikes and motorcycles making the distance from Rosario in Argentina all the way to Bolivia before finally ending up in Chile. Along the way they will run over stretches of tarmac, power through the sand dunes, cross through jungles and ride by the sea. The terrain is as varied as it is challenging, and it takes nerves of steel for these pilots to do what they do! Adding to the challenge is the fact that the 2014 edition of the Dakar is longer than ever before, and given that it touches altitudes not reached in the past, is also higher than ever before. Add two marathon stages to the event, and it is likely to be one of the toughest and most competitive Dakar Rallies ever held.
The 2014 route
The Dakar this year traverses through a new route, starting from Argentina, heading to Bolivia and then ending in Chile. The competitors will set off from Rosario in Argentina on the 5th of January, covering a distance of 809km on their first day. From there onwards, they will traverse approximately 3500km over a period of five days before getting to Salta for a day of rest. After the day of rest, the party will set off again this time the terrain changing a little as the route will hug the coastline in certain places - approximately 4600km will be covered over the course of seven days. Along the way, there are drivers and riders who will fall by the wayside. The Dakar is famous for being the sort of rally that punishes man and machine in equal measure. And the men and women who make it through to the finish line at Valparaiso will be the truly courageous, the truly brave and the truly determined. In some cases, they will also be the truly lucky.
Stephan Peterhansel's is a much revered name at in the Dakar records. The Frenchman has a record number of 11 wins at the event, having taken victory six times on two wheels and five times in a car. 2014 could well see Peterhansel add a sixth car-win feather to his Dakar cap and take the total wins up to 12. However, as it so often happens with the Dakar, it isn't over until you cross the finish line. Giving Peterhansel a run for his money, however, could be his new X-Raid Mini team-mate and 2011 Dakar winner, Nasser Al-Attiyah. There are others who will be waiting to wrest the crown from Peterhansel, though. Giniel De Villiers in the Toyota, Carlos Sainz in the Red Bull Buggy, Nani Roma (also in a Mini) and Robby Gordon in a Hummer.
Stephane Peterhansel will be aiming for win number 6 in cars
On two wheels, the battle will seemingly fall between Cyril Despres and Marc Coma. Yamaha rider Despres has already claimed five wins in the motorcycle category of the Dakar, and a sixth win would see him tie Peterhansel's record for most Dakar wins on two wheels. Meanwhile KTM's Coma has some amount of catching up to do given that three-time winner missed last year's event due to an injury. This one has the makings of a legendary battle.
Cyril Despres has five wins on two wheels to his credit and will be gunning for a sixth
But what's the Dakar Rally without some terrific trucks. The legendary Tsar of Dakar, Vladimir Chagin, is not around to send a Kamaz flying across the dunes. However, last year's winner, Eduard Nikolaev in a Kamaz, is all set to tackle the onslaught from Iveco's Gerard De Rooy.