Assisted by Marc Coma as sporting director, in Paris this morning Etienne Lavigne presented the details of the route and the list of competitors for the 38th edition of the Dakar, which will take place from 2nd to 16th January in Argentina and Bolivia. As loyal to rally-raid principles as possible, the 556 competitors expected will have their capacities of endurance and navigational abilities tested, in particular during a very tough second week of the race.
The first challenge has been met. Considerable modifications have had to be made to the Dakar route, requiring a high speed of reactions from the rally’s teams and the two countries that will host the 2016 edition, Argentina and Bolivia. Faced with a series of constraints, the new route stands out thanks to its creativity. The trek that will lead the 354 race vehicles from the start in Buenos Aires to Uyuni in Bolivia and then on the return journey to Rosario will be spread over 14 days of racing, covering more than 9,000 kilometres, with approximately 4,500 km against the clock. More importantly, it has several new features in store, which were revealed by Marc Coma, now the Dakar’s new sporting director after having won the event 5 times on a bike. One of the key moments will take place in Jujuy on 7th January, where a special marathon stage has been prepared: no mechanical interventions will be allowed in the secure enclosure on that evening. Following the stay in Bolivia, which promises to see temperatures drop as the race gains in altitude, the second week will witness a progressive increase in difficulty that will no doubt be fatal to certain competitors’ hopes. At the heart of this sequence, the “super special” in Fiambalá (on the Belén to La Rioja stage) will be contested in a ground-breaking way: 10 bikes, 10 cars and 5 trucks, chosen following the results of the previous stage, will set off together as scouts on the special stage. The battle will be a worthy spectacle and will smile upon the best navigators.
To triumph in Rosario, the winner will have to display special talent in deciphering the road-book subtly designed by the former master of the discipline. After the Coma and Despres era, the bike category is open to a renewal of generations. The number 1 race number is up for grabs for seven leading riders who have already climbed onto the final podium: Paolo Gonçalves, Toby Price, Helder Rodrigues, Ruben Faria, David Casteu, Olivier Pain and Jordi Viladoms, to which Joan Barreda and Pablo Quintanilla should be added as pretenders to the title. In the quad category, title holder Rafal Sonik will have to hold off a pack of South American pursuers, reinforced by the return of the Patronelli brothers, who have together won four trophies out of the seven awarded in South America.
The intrigue in the car category will be twofold, with the matter of the continuing Mini supremacy, triumphant on the last four editions, and especially that of their leader Nasser Al Attiyah. Having dominated last January to pick up his second title, the “Prince of the Desert” has gone on to outshine the competition on the rally-raid world cup, also adding an 11th success on the Middle-East Rally Championship and the WRC2 title! However, the thousands of kilometres of confidence accumulated do not guarantee success to the duo Al Attiyah-Baumel, nor should it give their pursuers complexes. Their rivals will be plentiful in the Minis (Roma, Terranova and Hirvonen), but also in the Toyota Hiluxes, like Giniel De Villiers or Yazeed Alrajhi. More significantly, the already stupendous team fielded by Peugeot last year, with Stéphane Peterhansel, Carlos Sainz and Cyril Despres, will be further enhanced by the addition to the team of nine times world rally champion Sébastien Loeb. This quartet of drivers will be counting on a version of the Peugeot 2008 completely redesigned in accordance with the lessons learned on the 2015 edition, allowing them to foster lofty ambitions!
Finally, the Russian Kamaz drivers have only missed out on one truck category title since the race switched to South America. However, the winner of that title in 2012, Gerard De Rooy, has teamed up with his former rival Ales Loprais to attempt to counter the favourites. The resistance is stirring…