After the three days of technical and administrative scrutineering, the 449 drivers and their teams on the 2013 Dakar Rally (183 bikes, 153 cars, 38 quads and 75 trucks) are ready to get to grips with the 5,270 miles of roads, tracks and dunes that they must tackle between Lima, Peru and Santiago, Chile. The rivals of Cyril Despres and Stephane Peterhansel are in the starting-blocks for Sunday's start of the two-week enduro.
A large majority of the riders and drivers would be happy merely with reaching Santiago in two weeks' time. However, the handful of contenders for overall victory 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 on Friday.
Four-time winner Cyril Despres unambiguously replied to the question of how he imagines the final podium: “I see myself standing on the top and the others can do what they please!” However, others were more modest, pointing to the uncertainty generated by a change to the rules that seeks to balance out the performances of the cars. Giniel De Villiers, a prime contender for the overall win, is preoccupied with “the potential of all the buggies, which will gain power and are probably the main beneficiaries of the new rules.”
As for the buggies, Guerlain Chicherit would probably approve of this sort of attitude, even though he has chosen a more challenging 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 teammate 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”.
The X-Raid team's Minis are still the heavy favorites. 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 teammates 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. And America's Robby Gordon is eager as ever to take to the fight to Peterhansel and the Minis with his Hummer.
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”.
This year's Dakar Rally gets underway today, Jan. 5, and runs through Jan. 20.