After the three days of technical and administrative scrutineering, the 449 drivers and their teams on the 2013 Dakar (183 bikes, 153 cars, 38 quads and 75 trucks) are ready to get to grips with the 8,500 kilometres of roads, tracks and dunes that they must tackle between Lima and Santiago. The rivals of Cyril Despres and Stephane Peterhansel are in the starting-blocks…
It is taking part that counts, as the old adage goes. This is true on the Dakar, where a large majority of the riders and drivers would already be happy with the perspective of merely reaching Santiago in two weeks’ time. However, it is absolutely not the case for a handful of champions who live for victory. It was this group that attracted most of the attention of the spectators who came to see the last day of scrutineering in the coastal district of Magdalena Del Mar. There is no need to wonder about the state of mind of Cyril Despres, who unambiguously replied to the question of how he imagines the final podium after 8,500 kilometres: “I see myself standing on the top and the others can do what they please!” After throwing down the gauntlet, the four times winner also defended the idea that this total focus on his own performance is one of the keys to his success. Furthermore, his rivals were singing from a similar hymn sheet, as shown, for example, by the words of Joan Barreda, his closest rival in the Rally of Morocco several weeks ago: “I’m feeling Zen. Marc Coma’s withdrawal doesn’t change the outlook. The aim is still to win. All that’s changed is that there is one less rival. There’s still work to be done to get there”. Francisco “Chaleco” Lopez, always “just happy to be at the start” hid his ambitions behind a smile, whereas David Casteu, who recharged his batteries by hiking in the Moroccan Atlas Mountains before arriving in Peru, feels “moved to be starting out on my 10th Dakar. I’ve already given sufficient proof that I know how to finish this race. What I want is to enjoy a good ride!” In the language of the biker from Nice, this means being a candidate for the final podium.
The race for the title in the car category seems even more open and the main movers and shakers were deliberately modest, pointing to the uncertainty generated by a change to the rules that seeks to balance out the performances. Giniel De Villiers, a pretender for the crown, is preoccupied with “the potential of all the buggies, which will gain power and are probably the main beneficiaries of the new rules,” whilst his team manager at Toyota Overdrive, Jean-Marc Fortin, gives a clearer indication of what role he sees his drivers playing: “We’re there to throw a spanner into the works”. As for the buggies, Guerlain Chicherit would probably approve of this sort of attitude, even though he has chosen a more sober motto of “catch me if you can” on the side of his car: “It fits perfectly with my state of mind. I don’t exactly know where I stand, but I’ll drive as well as I can and the idea is to be at the front”. Also in a two-wheel drive car, Nasser Al Attiyah gave a fairly glowing appraisal of his new vehicle’s potential: “Honestly, it is very fast. But just because it is fast doesn’t mean that it will win”. His team-mate Carlos Sainz, who already learned the virtues of patience during his time with Volkswagen, is looking a little further ahead: “It’s a car built to win the Dakar, but I don’t know if this will be its year. Our weakness will perhaps be its reliability”. Though the competition is already champing at the bit, the X-Raid team’s Minis are still legitimately predicted as favourites. Stephane Peterhansel, the man with 10 Dakar victories to his name, did not hesitate to single out who he thought the main threat would be: “Our chief rival will be De Villiers”. However, his team-mates Nani Roma and Krzysztof Holowczyc also cannot wait to get behind the wheel and put the pedal to the metal for the first time this year. As regards Robby Gordon, the sparkle of his Hummer gives an idea of just how excited he is to challenge the favourites.
In the truck category, Ales Loprais sees himself as not necessarily having a lead role but a pivotal one in the race for the title, even though the season’s schedule has not enabled him to participate with the vehicle that he wanted to prepare: “I’ll be driving my good old Tatra. It’s not the quickest or the most powerful or the most modern, but we still hope to win some special stages, because we have got plenty of heart and that will be our biggest weapon”.