Trio of former champions headline Dakar Rally
The 34th Dakar Rally and fifth version to be held in Latin America features a largely Pacific coast route which begins on January 5 in the Peruvian capital of Lima and ends on January 20 in Santiago, race organiser Etienne Lavigne announced on Wednesday.
The mythical endurance race that originated in 1978 when it was run from Paris to Dakar, Senegal will this year begin with 459 vehicles made up of cars, trucks, motorcycles and quads and cover some 8 400 kilometres to the finish line in the capital of Chile.
Frenchman Stephen Peterhansel defends his title in the auto category, but faces a stiff challenge from former champions Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar and Spanish driver Carlos Sainz who won the race in 2011 and 2010 respectively.
The route winds along the Pacific coast before two diversions into mainland Argentina and some rugged roads in the Andes mountains featuring 14 stages across three countries.
The 50-year-old Sainz, who won the world rally title in 1990 and 1992, is one of the main threats to Peterhansel's title along with the Qatari driver, who retired from the race last year with a spate of mechanical problems but will be back on the start line in January.
"His return gives me great pleasure but also constitutes an enormous threat for me," said the Frenchman who is chasing an 11th victory (6 in cars, 4 on motorcyles) and will drive a BMW Mini.
"This 2013 edition that has a confrontation between three former winners will give a exciting look to the race for the fans and will be very nerve wracking." continued Peterhansel.
The motorcycle category sees the return of the Honda team who have been absent since 1992 and is set to feature another intense rivalry between defending champion Cyril Despres of France and Spaniard Marc Coma who have shared the last seven titles and are the outright favourites.
The course begins for the first time on the desert sands south of Lima before gradually becoming more difficult as it enters Argentinian soil and a series of dangerous stages through valleys and canyons which will seriously challenge the competitors in all categories.
"It is far from a country drive along the sea between Lima and Santiago and the difficult sections sets up the race for a thrilling battle," said Lavigne.
The 2012 edition began with 443 vehicles which will now increase to 459 including 189 motorcycles, 155 cars, 75 trucks and 40 quads.