2015 Dakar: Looping the loop
The 414 vehicles on the start list and their drivers and riders will tackle over 9,000 kilometres of roads, tracks and dunes in their quest through Argentina, Chile and Bolivia.
The 37th edition of the Dakar, the seventh to be held on South American soil, will bring back the loop format with a course starting in Buenos Aires on January 4 and ending in the same city on January 17. The 414 vehicles on the start list and their drivers and riders will tackle over 9,000 kilometres of roads, tracks and dunes in their quest through Argentina, Chile and Bolivia.
Motorcycle and quad
With the motorcycle and quad rest day scheduled for a different date, the battle for glory will rage day after day, perhaps to be decided in the marathon stages all vehicles will have to face this time round…
It is no longer as much an event as a ritual. Drivers and riders flock to the Dakar presentation conference to find out as much as they can about the course they will be facing in January. It also sees the big teams fire the opening salvoes in the media war. It may look like a simple bivouac get-together, but competitors are already keeping a watchful eye on one another.
The deck has been thoroughly shuffled this year. Marc Coma, the defending champion in the motorcycle category, will no longer have to ride with his "frenemy", but he faces stiff competition: the Joan Barreda-Hélder Rodrigues-Paolo Gonçalves trident makes the HRC a credible threat, while Olivier Pain (third in 2014) has set his sights on loftier goals at Yamaha, where he has been joined by Juan Pedrero.
Meanwhile, in the car category, Peugeot's Dakar comeback raises as many questions as it does expectations. Peugeot has put together a strong team, but how far can the two-wheel drive 2008 DKR buggy go in its Dakar debut? Stéphane Peterhansel, Carlos Sainz and Cyril Despres have a combined total of 17 titles, but that means nothing unless they can see off the Mini challenge on the course.
X-Raid's constant improvements have made its car highly reliable and competitive, enabling it to claim seven of the nine podium spots available in the last three editions.
The German team will be banking on Nani Roma's ambition, as well as Nasser Al-Attiyah, Krzysztof Hołowczyc, Orlando Terranova and Guerlain Chicherit in a buggy, to extend its dominance. Giniel De Villiers, the only driver able to prevent a Mini whitewash on the podium since 2012, will once again seek to thwart their plans at the wheel of his Toyota Hilux. Ignacio Casale, who won Chile its first Dakar title in the quad category in 2014, will also have his work cut out to see off challenges from Rafał Sonik, Sergio Lafuente and others.
In the truck category, Gerard de Rooy will want to make up for letting Karginov (Kamaz) win by a nose last January, but will also have to reckon with Veka Man's surprise new recruit, Aleš Loprais.
Ricardo Leal dos Santos in the Dakar with the new Nissan V8
The start before the start