Preview: 2016 Dakar Rally
The 2016 edition of the Dakar Rally is underway as we speak. By that we mean that scrutiny, administrative and technical checks are already being carried out at Buenos Aires, with the entire convoy getting set for the 15 minute Prologue that goes from Buenos Aires to Rosario on the 2nd of January. Of course, there's some amount of sorrow, given that Peru has pulled out of the 2016 edition of the event. Even so, with Argentina and Bolivia still promising to throw more than just a few curveballs the way of the drivers and riders, there's still plenty to look forward to. Especially given that the event's new Sporting Director happens to be one Marc Coma who has managed to win a total of five Dakars in his career, the last win coming as recently as 2015!
Stephane Peterhansel leaves a dust trail in the wake of his Team Peugeot 2008DKR at the 2015 Dakar Rally
Here's exactly what you need to keep in mind ahead of the 2016 edition of the Dakar Rally:
The Dakar will start in earnest on the 3rd of January, 2015 from Rosario. The first stage will go from Rosario to Villa Carlos Paz, with the route being rather tricky and challenging. Save for the first, fast section of the stage, the running will be slow and difficult the rest of the way, with a route separation to ensure that trucks, cars and bikes don't all end up heading straight into each other. The real challenge will surface during the Jujuy to Jujuy stage (Stage 4 on the 6th of January), the marathon stage where competitors aren't allowed any sort of mechanical work on their machines. This is just the beginning, because they then need to make their way from Jujuy to Uyuni - from Argentina to Bolivia. And the journey into Bolivia is marked by quite a rapid change in altitude, which brings with it challenges aplenty for the competitors. Then, there's the The second marathon stage is from Belin to Belin for Stage 9 (12th of January), which will also be challenging. The only relief that competitors have on this particular stage is that they are allowed to work on their machines themselves. The longest stage of the Dakar is the 12th Stage on the 15th of January. That is one day before the finish of the rally. With over 900km to cover the competitors will have a really tough time. Although, the stage is fast and flowing, which will be ideal for some of the drivers and riders at this point, a slip up a day before the rally ends could be a disaster! The complete route for the 2016 edition of the Dakar is available here.
On two wheels:
There's no denying that the one person we are really and truly rooting for ahead of the 2016 edition of the Dakar is CS Santosh. The Indian rider is gritty, determined and pretty much willing to do whatever is humanly possible in order for him to achieve his goals.
CS Santosh at the 2015 edition of the Dakar Rally
And one of those goals happens to be winning the Dakar. In the 2015 edition, with the odds against him during his first attempt at the event, he finished 36th. This year, astride a Suzuki 450 Rally, he's hoping to do even better. If you want to know exactly what Santosh is aiming for in the 2016 edition of the Dakar, click here.
For a complete background of Santosh's racing career, click here.
To see what was running through Santosh's head ahead of the 2015 edition of the event, click here.
KTM's hopes for 2016 are riding on Jordi Viladoms
With Coma out of the picture, KTM is left with Viladoms to defend their title. And, of course it is largely Viladoms who they hope can manage to take a 15th consecutive Dakar title for them too. He is the team's most experienced rider at this point, with 10 Dakar starts under his belt. Though 2015 was a year to forget for the Spaniard, he will be determined to do better than he did in 2014. Given that he finished second in 2014, there's just the top step of the podium to aim for. Jordi will be giving it all he's got.
HRC's Paulo Goncalves will also be hoping to do better at the 2016 edition of the event
It was second overall of Paulo Goncalves at the the 2015 edition of the event. But for 2016, Goncalves and the Honda team are even more determined. Plus, the Portuguese rider has had more than just his fair share of bad luck in the past - remember those images of him crying in front of his burning motorcycle in 2014 - so things ought to balance themselves now. Goncalves has declared that one of the things he's the most concerned about is the navigation, which on a route this tricky, ought to be very difficult. He's got the might of HRC behind him, though, which could be an advantage.
Joan Barreda Bort:
Last year's near miss could well be this year's victor. Here's Joan Barreda Bort astride his HRC CRF 450 Rally in 2015.
Another contender for the overall Dakar crown is Goncalves' HRC team-mate, Joan Barreda Bort. And after what transpired in 2015, Barreda Bort will want revenge. The rider had led the Dakar for the first six stages of the event, when problems on the seventh stage saw him fall down the order. It wasn't something that he could recover from in 2015, but he's the rider that HRC's hopes are, er, riding on this time around. He's also spent the year on motocross training and also fine tuning his navigation skills. He could well be a force to reckon with this time around.
There was no way that we could talk about one Team Peugeot driver and not talk about the other. That's just how terrific Peugeot's lineup for the 2016 edition of the event is. Let's begin with Stephane Peterhansel. The Frenchman has won the Dakar 11 times - six of those times he was astride a motorcycle and five times in a car. His team-mate Carlos Sainz might only have won the Dakar rally once, in 2010, but he's still got seven Dakars to his name, which makes him one of the more experienced competitors. Let's not forget, Sainz has also been part of Peugeot's Dakar project from the word go. The third man in the team is Cyril Despres. With five Dakar wins to his name, albeit as a rider, Depres is used to tasting success in the dunes. Although, his first outing with Team Peugeot didn't end as close to the podium as he'd have liked. But, if there ever was a Frenchman who really made motorsport fans stop and take notice, it's a certain Sebastien Loeb, who, along with navigator Daniel Elena, will make up the fourth car they field in the Dakar.
Now, it's all well and good that Peugeot has so many terrific drivers in their lineup for the event. But, there's no escaping the fact that their 2008DKR wasn't the sharpest knife in the box. Reliability, in 2016, will be key. The 2008DKR16 better be up for it.
Can Nasser Al-Attiyah make it two Dakar wins in a row?
Nasser Al-Attiyah has two Dakar wins to his name. He's also particularly confident given that his last win in the car category was as early as last year. The Mini for the 2016 edition of the event isn't all-new. It's been tweaked just enough based on knowledge the team has about the new route. The same goes for the engine. But given that it's the car that has won the Dakar for the last four years, there isn't very much that Al-Attiyah needs to worry about. Neither does his team-mate Nani Roma, then. With Roma having won in 2014, and Al-Attiyah in 2015, this is their Dakar to lose.
Robby Gordon makes a return to the Dakar in his Gordini, which should be interesting. Toyota's challenge will be led by Giniel de Villiers who was runner-up behind Al-Attiyah last year. We'd also keep our eyes on Romain Dumas who will pilot his RD Rallye Team Peugeot 2008DKR16. Also watch out for Mikko Hirvonen, also piloting a Mini.
As it has been for the last couple of years, the battle for win in the truck category is likely to boil down to Kamaz versus Iveco. Airat Mardeev, Aydar Belyaev and Dmitriy Svistunov, who won their class last year, will take on Gerard de Rooy, Moises Torrallardona and Darek Rodewald.
Dakar isn't Dakar without the sight of them Kamazes!
Eduard Nikolaev and Andrey Karginov, with their respective co-pilots, will also pose a threat. We are right glad about it too! There's nothing quite like the sight of them Kamazes jumping out the sand!
Rafal Sonik will look to defend his title in the quad class from Igancio Casale
In the quad class, right now, it seems like it's going to be a fairly straightforward battle. Rafal Sonik will try defending his title from Ignacio Casale. They're both on Yamahas. And they're both very tough.
Wondering how to get the latest Dakar updates? Well, we will give you updates on our website and via social media as soon as we can each day. But there's also official Dakar sources that can be very helpful. Live updates are available via the Dakar Rally 2016 app that is available on for the Play Store and on the App Store. If you need help finding it, you can click right here.
There's also @dakar which is the official Twitter handle for the event from where tweets aplenty will help keep you updated. Also an official Twitter handle that you can follow is @dakarlive while information about CS Santosh is available via his Twitter handle @cs_santosh22
Images courtesy: Shakedown Team