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Dakar Rally 2019 preview: Champions are back to the desert

Carlos Sainz

Bengaluru, January 5: The 2019 Dakar Rally gets underway in Lima, Peru on Sunday (January 6) with the excitement surrounding the event screaming through the gears.

As race crews led by defending champion Carlos Sainz and runner-up Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah arrive in Lima, there is plenty of speculation over who will walk away with the big prizes. The teams and drivers who have conquered the Dakar in previous years have plenty of expectation on them to get the better of the dunes once again.

Among the favourites in the car category are the X-raid MINI JCW trio of Stephane Peterhansel (FRA), Sainz (ESP) and Cyril Despres (FRA) and Toyota Gazoo Racing Team's Al Attiyah, who together have an incredible 22 Dakar victories between them and all have ambitions to park on the top step of the podium in 2019.

"The Dakar challenges you in every way both physically and mentally. It taxes all your strength and that of your team, so victory brings maximum satisfaction," said Sainz, who won the Dakar Rally last year with Peugeot, switched to X-Raid MINI team this time.

Al Attiyah's challenge

Al Attiyah's challenge

Mini look set to be best tested by Toyota, with Qatari Al Attiyah, a double Dakar winner (2011, 2015), no doubt looking forward to the sand-heavy rally.

Attiyah and his French co-driver Mathieu Baumel, finished second last year and will be bolstered by teammate Giniel De Villiers, the South African who claimed the Dakar title in 2009 and has had seven other podium finishes including third in 2018.

Loeb returns

Loeb returns

Sebastien Loeb (FRA) returns to the Dakar this year for his fourth attempt at the rally. The Frenchman is yet to win the desert classic, but has made his mark with a total of 10 stage victories and a second place finish in 2017.

Loeb will set off from the Peruvian capital behind the wheel of a Peugeot 3008DKR. The nine-time WRC winner has recently refamiliarised himself with the car he previously drove at the Dakar during an intense training session.

"Several teams will have a shot at winning and I hope we are one of them," said Loeb.

Record breaker

Record breaker

Peterhansel is best known for winning the Dakar Rally for a record 13 times.

And the Frenchman is ready for his 14th crown.

"I've crossed the finish line first on 13 occasions and I still ask myself every time how it can be possible. Ultimately, you can stumble into a trap at any point during the race - and then that's that. My co-driver and I do have a certain talent for this rally but it is still an extremely complicated task every time."

Different challenge

Different challenge

Despres has won the Dakar five times, but on a bike. After swapping two wheels for four, the Frenchman has been eyeing a big big breakthrough.

In Peru this year, Despres,Sainz and Peterhansel have all come across to compete with the X-Raid Mini JCW Team after Peugeot closed its Dakar program.

Anybody coming to the Dakar and aiming to win knows that nothing will come easy on the 10-stage journey through Peru. Rivals will be waiting to pounce on any mistake throughout the 5,000km course. Only those who can keep a cool head from the start line to the chequered flag can hope to claim victory at the Dakar. Who will that be? Could we see a MINI John Cooper Works Buggy take the chequered flag in Lima on January 17 or could it be Al Attiyah again in his Hilux? We'll find out over the coming weeks!

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    Story first published: Saturday, January 5, 2019, 12:29 [IST]
    Other articles published on Jan 5, 2019
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