Sand, dunes and desert. This is what the Dakar riders and crews are in search of and the exclusively Peruvian menu that has been concocted for this coming January clearly corresponds to their expectations.
In any case, this is the opinion they formulated collectively when they entered after the announcement that the entire rally route was to be within the borders of Peru. In all, 334 vehicles will turn up for the start on January 7, all of whom share the goal of returning to the capital after 5,000 kilometres, including 3,000 of special stage that will be remembered for an unequalled intensity.
“It is a little like as if we were competing in the Vendée Globe only in the roaring 40s”, says race director Etienne Lavigne in defining the degree of difficulty of the 2019 edition.
The skill level of dune crossing, the ability to navigate without detours in open terrain and the indispensable physical strength to battle in the massive sandy sectors will be the criteria to fulfil for the title contenders.
In the motorcycle category, the indestructible KTMs of Walkner, Price and Sunderland will, once again, take on the Hondas of Benavides, Gonçalves and Barreda as well as the Yamahas of Van Beveren and De Soultrait. In the car class, the former Peugeot stars have moved to Mini, where Sainz, Peterhansel and Despres will join Roma, Przygonski and Terranova, while Loeb will be in a privateer Peugeot entered by PH Sport.
They will face stiff competition from the Toyotas of Al Attiyah, De Villiers and Ten Brinke, in the largest car field since 2015.
In the truck division, the favourites from Kamaz should face their rivals from Team De Rooy, led by Gerard De Rooy, who returns after a one-year absence.
Beyond the battle for three major titles, looking at the entry list reveals several tendencies that already make the 2019 edition standout.
First, the number of rally newcomers totals 135 competitors, allowing 97 vehicles, (30% of the field) to compete for rookie of the year honours. Second, the SxS category has properly taken off this year, with 30 entrants in all, and a battle that promises to be a tight one between former quad category winner Sergey Karyakin, retired bike rider Gerard Farrés (3rd in 2017) and the star of American off-road Casey Currie.
And third, a female movement with the largest entry since the beginning of the Dakar’s South American era. They will be 17, including long-time competitor in the bike category Laia Sanz, but there will also be a few duos to keep an eye on such as Camelia Liparoti and Rosa Romero in the car category along with Annett Fischer and Andrea Peterhansel in SxS.
Half-marathon: the second chance
The disappointments are sometimes cruel on the Dakar, especially in the case of a premature retirement after just a few hundred kilometres of action.
This year, the cars, trucks and SxS that experience this hardship in the opening half of the rally will be able to re-join the rally following the rest day in a parallel competition.
Competing in a separate classification, these vehicles will run with an orange plate and will never be permitted to start in the first 25 places of a special stage.