It’s that time of year again when the motorsports world shifts its gaze towards South America for The Dakar Rally. The teams have already arrived and the first stage starts in Rosario, Argentina on Sunday January 5th. Vehicles checking started on Thursday and will end on Saturday morning. In case you’re wondering why it takes so long, consider that 174 bikes, 40 quads, 149 cars and 70 trucks are scheduled to compete this year. The nomadic rally raid tribe has already assembled. The racers will be followed by support trucks carrying all the equipment possibly required for nightly maintenance and repairs at the bivouac. There will also be medical staffs including physical therapists, personnel from teams, media, the rally officials, mechanics and more. They’ve spent the past few days enjoying time in the beautiful city by the River Paraná and also preparing for the journey of a lifetime. For some, it may be the only time they’re going to be part of anything as huge as The Dakar Rally.
The race begins in Rosario, Argentina, will pass through Bolivia and end in Valparaíso, Chile on January 18, 2014.
Clash of the Two-Wheel Titans
It’s hard to talk about competitors when there are so many of them. Giants in the sport like Peterhansel, Despres, Roma, Coma and others, who could completely walk away from the sport with their heads held high, as the bar they’ve set for their peers. Speaking of those peers, we’re due to see a shift in loyalty as #1 Cyril Despres is now a Yamaha man after twelve years with KTM, which allows his former team mate #8 Ruben Faria to step beyond his supporting role to the five-time champ. While Despres is chasing a legend, aiming to tie Stéphane Peterhansel’s record of six Dakar Rally wins on a bike. Another man thirsting for victory is #5 Francisco ‘Chaleco’ Lopez. He missed out on a second place finish last year due to a penalty, and the Chilean won’t be satisfied with anything but an overall win. Now that he’s teamed with Faria and #2 Marc Coma on the KTM Red Bull Factory Racing Team, he may be closer than ever to achieving that goal.
Then there are the amateurs fulfilling a lifelong dream like #167 Peter Hardy, a California firefighter and Baja veteran who completed the entire 1000 solo in 2010. He was forced to bow out before the 2012 Dakar Rally due to the same plight faced by many privateers – a shortage of time and money, but not this year. He’ll be riding a 2011 KTM 450 XCW with support from Freedom Rally Racing, and has a pro finish in the 2013 Touareg Rally under his belt. Another rider is #92 Mike Johnson, an engineer out of Texas. He’s been to the Dakar Rally before as part of a support team and was set to race last year, but an injury forced him to withdraw. This time he’s ready to make his mark with the help of Team HT Honda Rally Raid. Johnson also travelled great distances to prepare for this race, by completing the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. We’ll definitely be keeping an eye on their progress over the next two weeks.
A Mini Demonstration in Domination
When considering a tougher-than-nail off-roading machine, how many people really think Mini? If you’ve been paying any attention to the Dakar Rally for the past few years, then Mini is the first name that comes to mind. The Monster Energy X-raid Team has hoisted the winner’s trophy two years in a row with the Mini All4 Racing car. This is also due, in no small part, to the talents of #300 Stéphane Peterhansel and his co-driver, Jean-Paul Cottret. This will mark his twenty-fifth Dakar Rally, as he aims to score a hat-trick of victories. He’s already accomplished this on a bike in 1991-1993.
This won’t be an easy feat since his greatest competition will be coming from his team mates. #304 Joan “Nani” Roma has also been victorious with bikes and is seeking his first victory on four wheels with co-driver, Michel Périn. #307 Orlando Terranova will want to make his fellow Argentineans proud with co-driver Paulo Fiúza; and Poland’s #309 Krzysztof Holowczyc is aiming to score his first Dakar podium or better. His co-driver is the Russian, Konstantin Zhiltsov. They will be joined by seven other vehicles which comprise the MINI ALL4 Racing – X-raid Team, making them eleven strong. One of those cars is piloted by #301 Qatari Nasser Al-Attiyah, who made a big splash last year by teaming up with Carlos Sainz again. Unfortunately both were forced to retire but are back in 2014 and proper rivals this time around, as #303 Sainz and co-driver, Timo Gottschalk, will be representing Red Bull Team Buggy SMG.
From Baja to Dakar
If momentum means anything, then #318 BJ Baldwin is dripping with it. He’s going into The Dakar Rally with a second consecutive Baja 1000 win. Baldwin and co-driver Quinn Cody will team up with #305 Robby Gordon and #320 Guerlain Chicherit for the race. He and Chicherit with co-driver Jean Brucy will be in matching Jefferies Racing / EVR Proto VX Rally Raid Concept Buggies. Gordon and co-driver Kellon Walch will be in a SPEED Energy / Toyo Tires / HST SUV called “Gordini” which is much smaller and lighter than the Hummer he’s raced with previously. He’s been racing Dakar since 2005 and achieved a podium finish in 2009.
Baldwin and Gordon aren’t the only American drivers looking for Dakar glory. Telluride Gold Racing Team’s Peter Hajas has left behind the freezing cold in Minnesota to fully embrace his passion as a desert racer. He gained an entry to The Dakar Rally by achieving the fastest adjusted time combined from the Tecate SCORE Baja 500 and the Eldorado HDRA Reno 500. Alongside co-driver Kevin Selchow, they will be in a Brenthel Industries Dakar Buggy. Although they don’t have the experience like their fellow American competitors, we’re still looking forward to see how this team will fare.
A Final Word
One of the best parts of the 2013 race for me was watching the progress of American rider, Kurt Caselli. He was brought in to replace the injured Marc Coma. It was his first Dakar and he rode away with two stage victories, and subsequently earned a permanent position on the factory’s rally team. Tragically, Caselli lost his life during the SCORE/Baja 1000 race. He will be missed.
We’ll be posting updates as soon as we get them here. You can also follow along with The Dakar Rally mobile apps and the following social media channels: