The roar of engines has got the new year off to a flying start in Paraguay’s capital city as the Dakar Rally hits the road once again. Thousands of thrilled spectators crowded into Asunción’s Parque Bicentenario to get a glimpse of the mighty machines that will contest motorsport’s toughest test of endurance racing.
Race fans were treated to an impressive display by the competitors’ convoy of 83 cars, 146 bikes, 50 trucks, 37 quads and eight SSVs as Paraguay becomes the 29th country to host the Dakar. With new territory comes new challenges and the riders at the 2017 Dakar Rally are in no doubt that an arduous two-week journey through South America has now begun.
It was straight down to business for the teams as they arrived in Asunción, exemplified by Team Peugeot Total’s drivers heading directly from the airport to Autodromo Victor Ruben Dumot to rollout the fearsome PEUGEOT 3008 DKR. The D-ream Team of Stéphane Peterhansel (FRA)/Jean-Paul Cottret (FRA), Cyril Despres (FRA)/David Castera (FRA), Sébastien Loeb (FRA)/Daniel Elena (MON) and Carlos Sainz (ESP)/Lucas Cruz (ESP) are fully focused on defending the title they brought back to France 12 months ago. (Check out Loeb’s official Instagram account!)
While things are looking good in Peugeot’s blue corner, the noises coming out of Toyota Gazoo Racing’s red corner are also promising. With Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Mathieu Baumel (FRA) now joining Giniel De Villiers (RSA)/Dirk von Zitzewitz (GER) the South African set-up are confident they have the drivers and cars they need to keep pace with the front of the race for the entire 9,000km route. (Design Nasser’s helmet for his 2017 season here!)
Adding to the intrigue developing at the business end of the car race are a host of hopefuls looking to upset the odds including the MINIs of Kuba Przygoński (POL)/Tom Colsoul (BEL) and Mohamed Abu Issa (QAT)/Xavier Panseri (FRA).
When it comes to the two-wheeled contest the Red Bull KTM Factory Team have been creating a buzz in Asunción in the build-up to tomorrow’s first stage. Reigning champion Toby Price (AUS) has been his usual laid-back self while completing all the technical and administrative checks needed to be filed before taking the start-line. The Australian’s team-mates Matthias Walkner (AUT) and Sam Sunderland (GBR) are also in high spirits as they get the chance to put previous Dakar disappointments behind them with another crack at the biggest challenge their sport has to offer.
Hélder Rodrigues (POR) is back to ride his 11th Dakar and the Yamaha man has a proud record to defend in the bike race. Only once in his previous 10 rides has he finished outside the Top 10 and a third podium result remains within reach.
When it comes to crowd favourites at the Dakar the blue trucks of Team Kamaz Master are always guaranteed a great reception wherever they travel in world. The Russian team are on a mission to secure their 7th Dakar win in South America and they send four trucks into battle. Drivers Ayrat Mardeev (2015 winner), Eduard Nikolaev (2013 winner), Dmitry Sotnikov and Anton Shibalov carry the responsibly of bringing home a winning result.
Looking to lead from the front in the quad race and recapture the title he won in 2015 is Ignacio Casale (CHI). The Chilean has also completed the Dakar by bike and truck but this time takes charge of a Raptor 700 Yamaha as he attempts to boss things in the quad contest.
Following the excitement of today’s podium ceremony the real business of racing starts tomorrow with a 40km special stage taking place north of Asunción. It’s a small step into the 4,000km of timed racing that will need to be completed by any competitor wishing to cross the finish line in Buenos Aires in a fortnight’s time.
Stéphane Peterhansel #300: I had a long trip from Switzerland to South America but to be here in Paraguay driving the PEUGEOT 3008 DKR feels perfect. The rollout at the racetrack was good, it gave us the chance to check over the new brake discs. Now we’re ready to race.
Carlos Sainz #304: After another year of hard work on this project it feels good to now be at the start-line. I think there have been improvements to the car’s reliability and speed compared with last year so this is a good sign.
Cyril Despres #307: The win at the Silk Way Rally has helped us grow in confidence and we have come a long way in a short time. This is only my third Dakar on four wheels so I’m still in a learning process. At the Silk Way we got to know how it is to lead a car race and it was a great experience.
Sébastien Loeb #309: The Dakar is so different to any other type of racing and it feels great to be back here for a second time. Last year I arrived with very little rally-raid experience and now I have a year of learning behind me so I’m hoping that is going help.
Nasser Al-Attiyah #301: The Toyota Hilux is a car that has never won the Dakar and this is the challenge that interests me. If I win, my name will remain a part of the history. The car works well and with Matthieu (Baumel) we have done an enormous amount of work.
Giniel De Villiers #302: I want to win. We have worked to improve the car during the year and covered more than 3,000km of testing. The base is very good and we can count on some enormous improvements. It is the fastest Hilux I have ever driven.
Kuba Przygoński #316: The advantage of switching from a bike is that you tend to not damage the car. You’re more cautious on a bike because a fall can hurt a lot. The downside is that you have to force yourself to drive fast in the car in places you wouldn’t on a bike
Toby Price #1: Winning in 2016 means the target is very definitely on my back. In the Dakar lots of unexpected things can happen and everybody is going to be gunning for me. On the other hand once you have won it once, you know it is possible.
Sam Sunderland #14: I reckon that after last year’s race, which in Dakar terms at least was relatively easy, they are really going to pile on the pressure this year, which is fine by me. If nothing crazy happens I should be in a good position come the final finish line.
Matthias Walkner #16: My primary goal for 2017, after two failed attempts, has to be to get to the final finish line. I’d really like to see that black and white flag. If everything goes without a hitch a Top 5 finish should be possible.
Hélder Rodrigues #5: Like always, this Dakar will be very difficult and I will have to be at my best. We continued to work this year to reach our goal: to do as good as I did and maybe get a better result on the Dakar.
Ayrat Mardeev #501: The most important thing for us is to get a good result, not break the truck and make sure the crew remains on good form. No matter which crew of our four trucks is at the front, the most important thing is the win for the team.
Eduard Nikolaev #505: The biggest rival of anyone at Dakar is themselves because of the various emotions
each day. You have to be careful while also controlling your emotions by keeping cool and avoiding mistakes.
Dmitry Sotnikov #513: Whatever happens on the race blown out tyres or even the truck rolling over we must be able to forget about it and only have in mind the route that remains to be covered.
Anton Shibalov #515: It is more interesting to compete with strong competitors as Vladimir Chagin (Kamaz team captain) says. He also likes to say that at the Dakar, the one who wins is not like the others. For example, we always try to go just outside the normal path because it is usually crushed ground and can be as smooth as a highway road.
Ignacio Casale #251: This year I’m the only rider in my team with support from two mechanics and a nine-metre truck driven by relatives to help me along the way. My quad is very similar to last year with just some tweaks to the suspension.
Red Bull Motorsports Communications, Christina Gaither