Bengaluru, January 4: Fifteen days, 9,000 kilometres , three countries, sands, mountains, dunes, rocks, gravels.... It doesn't get bigger than this as the stage is set for Dakar Rally 2018.
Some of the best off road racers of all times like defending champion Stephane Peterhansel, two-time winner and favourite Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah, rally legends Sebastien Loeb, Carlos Sainz and Giniel De Villiers will all gather at Peru's capital city of Lima on Saturday (January 6) for the for the 40th edition.
An interesting sub-plot is the presence of former football coach Andre Villas-Boas, who is making his Dakar debut in four wheels.
The two-wheel challenge will be led by defending champion Sam Sunderland while Laia Sanz will be the flag-bearer of women in the most gruelling off road rally.
Qatar's Al Attiyah and his French co-driver Mathieu Baumel know exactly what it takes to win the Dakar and the pair are targeting a strong start on the Peruvian dunes in their Hilux for Toyota Gazoo Racing Team.
When the rally gets underway it will be out into the desert for five unforgiving stages on almost exclusively sandy terrain.
Al Attiyah and Baumel have a hard earned reputation as the best dune racing duo around and they will be looking to make that advantage count in the first week of the race.
"The first week promises to be crucial and the crew who comes out with a good lead will already have taken a big step towards the win," said Al Attiyah, who is eyeing his third win following his triumphs in 2011 and 2015.
"I literally love this race and it's a real pleasure to be at the start year-after-year. I'll need to be smart and not focus on this or that or stage wins, but to finish as the winner," the Red Bull athlete added.
There has been plenty of buzz among race fans and fellow competitors to see how Villas-Boas will cope with swapping the dugout for the bivouac.
Well, it's so far so good for the Portuguese Dakar rookie as well as his co-driver and fellow countryman Ruben Faria, who will also be seen behind the wheels of a Toyota Hilux.
Faria's extensive navigation experience picked up during his successful motorcycle career will be a major plus for Villas-Boas. Another benefit is the physical conditioning advice he has taken onboard from his physios and fitness staff that have assisted him at his various football clubs including Porto, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Zenit St Petersburg and Shanghai SIPG.
"I started a physical program that my physio and fitness coaches that worked for me in my football teams designed. I've been trying to stick to that program and I also rented an altitude tent. The thing is, we never know how our body will react to being in the car everyday and suffering at different points," said Villas-Boas.
The 5,500 mile adventure will run through Argentina and Bolivia before concluding in Cordoba January 20 after 14 stages of competition.
Fasten your seat belts guys! It's vroom time!!!