The details of the Dakar 2012, which will take place between 1st and 15th January in Argentina, Chile and Peru, were unveiled this morning in Paris. The route’s characteristics, just like the game of musical chairs evident amongst the pretenders to the crown, promise a race full of thrills and spills.
The Dakar is a race for travellers. This year, it is readying itself to discover a 27th country, at the end of a fourth South American adventure that will take the riders and drivers to Lima, the capital of Peru, after having returned to the Argentinean and Chilean landscapes. The crossing of the continent, from the Atlantic to the Pacific appeals massively to rally-raid lovers who come to enjoy the thrills of the competition and wide open spaces. This year, 465 vehicles are expected at Mar del Plata for the start of the race, an increase of almost 15 % in comparison to the 2011 edition.
Sand and dunes will be on the menu in the three host countries of the Dakar 2012. However, between the ones in Fiambala leading up to the crossing of the Andes Mountains, the amazingly large ones of the Atacama Desert, or those in Peru which stretch out in long rows, their variation and the reoccurrence of difficulty they provide along the route means it is a fool’s game to try and predict just how the race will unfold. Furthermore, the numbers in the field have become denser, making predictions more and more random, starting in the two-wheeled category. Whilst Marc Coma and Cyril Despres are neck and neck with three victories each, it is by no means a sure thing that one of them will take a lead this year on the rally’s roll of honour. Among the serious rivals who can already boast podium finishes are Helder Rodrigues and David Casteu riding for Yamaha, as well as Francisco Lopez (Aprilia) or Pal-Anders Ullevalseter (KTM). However, in light of their promising performances, Portugal’s Paulo Gonçalves (Husqvarna) or even American Quinn Cody, best “rookie” in 2011 (9th, Honda) can also be granted the rank of pretender. What’s more, all eyes will probably also be on a handful of first-class newcomers, such as Brazilian Felipe Zanol (2nd behind Despres in the Sertoes International Rally), two times endurance world champion Johnny Aubert, or four times Bol d’Or winner Matt Lagrive.
The reshuffling of cards expected in the car category could also give rise to an intense battle. It will already be raging within the ranks of the X-Raid team, which will be racing five Minis, driven by two former rally winners, Stephane Peterhansel and Nani Roma (who triumphed on a bike), as well as the rising start of the discipline Krzysztof Holowczyc, victorious this summer on the Silk Way Rally. But the new context could also allow Robby Gordon to make a mark again, after a podium finish in 2009 behind the wheel of his Hummer. This is also a goal that Giniel De Villiers can legitimately hold: the winner of the first South American Dakar will be driving a Toyota Pick-up designed by Overdrive that could make a triumphant debut in the event. The state of the competition is also whetting the appetite of outsiders such as Christian Lavieille for Dessoude, Mathias Kahle behind the wheel of an SMG buggy, or the comeback kid Carlos Sousa, enlisted by Chinese constructor Great Wall.
In the quad category, the Patronelli brothers seem obliged to provide an excellent performance. The Argentine spectators, won over by the family saga that has witnessed the victories of Marcos in 2010, then Alejandro in 2011, will only content themselves with the best. However, on the tracks the duo will have to deal with Czech rider Josef Machacek, who picked up the last of his five titles in 2009, as well as a Polish onslaught that has been gathering strength for the last few years in the form of Rafal Sonik and Lukasz Laskawiec.
2012 will unavoidably be a turning point for the Kamaz team, since its star Chagin has left the cab to take on a role in managing the team. An air of youthfulness has been given to the team with Eduard Nikolaev and Ayrat Mardeev, son of Ilgizar, who both have the talent and machines capable of prolonging the Russian domination. That said, their failure at home in July in the SWR, along with the victory of Ales Loprais, allows the Czech driver to nourish hopes of triumph. The De Rooy team also has high hopes, with the return to the tracks of Gerard, but also the presence of Hans Stacey, the last driver to have beaten Kamaz on the Dakar, in 2007. Furthermore, the Veka team does not intend to be a mere spectator of this struggle, with Frantz Echter ready to get stuck in.