With the 2016 Dakar Rally now just a month away, we’re wiping down our sand goggles ahead of another trip to the dunes. If you’re a rally raid rookie looking for some intense desert drama while most other motorsports are in close-season mode then take a look below to see what’s going down in South America next January.
1. Legends are forged in the heat of the desert
The history of the Dakar actually dates back a couple of years before the race was first run in 1979. The wheels were put in motion when French biker Thierry Sabine was stranded for several days in the Libyan Desert after getting lost during the Abidjan-Niza Rally. Rather than hanging up his helmet, the experience whetted Sabine’s appetite for adventure. The Frenchman went on to organise the Dakar until he died in a helicopter crash following the race in 1986.
2. Kamaz keep on trucking
A fine 1–2–3 finish to the truck race of the 2015 Dakar saw Team Kamaz Master perform a clean sweep of the podium places. Team captain Vladimir Chagin – himself a record holding seven-time single category champion – will send four crews into battle led by drivers Ayrat Mardeev (2015 winner), Andrey Karginov (2014 winner), Eduard Nikolaev (2013 winner) and Dmitry Sotnikov.
3. The local fans add plenty of colour
The spectacular scenes at the Dakar are not just restricted to the circuit, as South American motorsport fans provide vibrant support from start to finish. The upcoming Dakar kicks-off in Buenos Aires, the hometown of Argentina’s original speedster Juan Manuel Fangio. Expect the crowds to be big and noisy as the rally sets off on a 10,000km route through Argentina and Bolivia.
4. Nasser is hunting back-to-back wins
Nasser Al-Attiyah and co-driver Mathieu Baumel are not only the reigning Dakar champions, but also won this season’s FIA Cross-Country Rally World Cup. The desert racing duo return in the X-raid MINI they used to win the 2015 Dakar and are serious contenders to taste victory once again.
5. Sébastien Loeb joins the party
One of the main attractions in January will be following the progress of Dakar debutant Sébastien Loeb. The Frenchman is already a sporting superstar thanks to his nine consecutive WRC titles, but now he has his sights set on cross-country racing. Long-time co-driver Daniel Elena will be alongside Loeb in their PEUGEOT 2008DKR.
6. Three drivers, 17 Dakar wins
Joining Loeb in the Team Peugeot Total paddock will be a trio of drivers with a massive amount of Dakar experience already in the tank. Stéphane Peterhansel, Carlos Sainz and Cyril Despres have no less than 17 Dakar victories between them and will be co-driven by Jean-Paul Cottret, Lucas Cruz and David Castera respectively.
7. El Niño says bring your umbrella
As well as soaring temperatures of up to 45 degrees out on the course, there is also the chance for the terrain to change in an instant at the Dakar. Heavy rainfall around Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni salt flats at the previous edition of the race caused problems for many riders, as they found out that saltwater and engines are a bad mix. The threat of El Niño has already led to the cancelation of 2016’s Peruvian stages and could yet have a huge impact on the remaining stages in Argentina and Bolivia.
8. Two big guns no longer on two wheels
The previous ten editions of the Dakar bike contest have been won by either Cyril Despres or Marc Coma, but this time neither of them will be in the race. The door is wide open for another two wheel wonder to emerge and the leading candidates include Matthias Walkner (KTM), Joan Barreda (Honda) and Hélder Rodrigues (Yamaha).
9. Out of this world imagery
The Dakar Rally is a dream assignment for sports photographers because year after year the race produces scope for stunning imagery. To glimpse competitors pitting their wits against some of the most inhospitable terrain on the planet is synonymous with the Dakar. Watch out for the upcoming daily galleries on RedBull.com/Motorsports.
10. Taking the long way round
It has become a cliché at the Dakar that finishing the race is a triumph in itself, but even those competitors with designs on victory tell us that this rally can come to a premature end at any moment. With days starting at 5am and distances of 1,000km to be covered on a daily basis, the mental and physical exhaustion that prays on the competitors can take its toll. Competitors will be finalising their training plans throughout December with the aim of coming to Buenos Aires in peak fitness.
Source: Redbull Content Pool
AUTHOR: Tim Sturtridge