Dakar to stay in S America for a long time
There are no immediate plans for the Dakar Rally to return to Africa, race director Etienne Lavigne has told dpa in an interview.
"Returning is not in our minds. We have many plans for next year, but we cannot say anything beyond that the race will finish in Santiago de Chile," Lavigne said.
The Dakar Rally is being held in South America for the fourth year in succession. The off-road endurance race took place in Africa from 1979 to 2007. It was moved to Argentina and Chile after fears of terrorist attacks in Mauritania led to a cancellation of the until then annual event in 2008.
The prestigious race stands before its last, most exciting stages en route to Lima, where participants are set to arrive Sunday.
"The competition will be fierce all the way to Lima," he warned.
Lavigne highlighted the fact that the gaps in the overall standings between the top-placed contestants are very small.
"There is a lot of tension in the various categories. I think this edition looks a lot like what used to be the spirit of the race in Africa, and it is the toughest since we've been racing in South America," he said.
Lavigne, who has been working on the Dakar Rally for 19 years, said the route this year had some particularly tough stretches, including San Rafael and Fiambala in Argentina and Copiapo in Chile. On Thursday, Peru became the 27th country to host the Dakar Rally in the race's history of over three decades.
"We feel that contestants are now very happy with the route," he said.
Lavigne pointed out, as a further advantage, that the Dakar Rally has managed to make every stage a different chapter for participants, going through sand dunes, mountains, desert and snow.
On the down side, he mentioned the disqualification of US driver Robby Gordon, who races on pending an appeal, and the withdrawal of defending champion Nasser al-Attiyah of Qatar.
"With Nasser's exit we lost a lot, because he is a very nice man, he is a star of the Dakar. He is a great person and I hope he comes back next year," Lavigne said.
Al-Attiyah had many technical problems with his Hummer and eventually withdrew from the race Tuesday.
Lavigne was less upset about another exit, that of Volkswagen. The German carmaker, after three successive victories with its Race Touareg, pulled out of the Dakar Rally to focus this year on their world rally championship premiere with the Polo.
"What do you think of the race now?" Lavigne said, to indicate that he finds the increased competition good for the race.
The Dakar Rally started on January 1 with 469 vehicles - cars, motorbikes, quads and trucks - in the Argentine seaside city of Mar del Plata. It is set to end Sunday in Lima.
Argentina host five stages. Chile held five more, although the one corresponding to the crossing of the Andes between the two countries had to be cancelled due to snow and was run in a convoy. Peru is to host the last four stages of this year's race.