There’s no escaping the excitement gripping Lima as the planet’s best offroad racers roll into Peru’s capital city to contest the 2018 Dakar Rally. Looking every bit a contender for first place is two-time car race winner Nasser Al-Attiyah. On bikes the Red Bull KTM Factory Team are chasing a 17th consecutive title with defending champ Sam Sunderland leading the charge.
Al-Attiyah’s Toyota Gazzo Racing SA team-mate Giniel De Villiers is also serious about chasing another Dakar title. Al-Attiyah and De Villiers will race their Toyota Hiluxes alongside soccer supremo André Villas-Boas who is taking a break from the beautiful game to fulfil a lifelong ambition of racing the world’s toughest rally.
Qatar’s Al-Attiyah and his French co-driver Mathieu Baumel know exactly what it takes to win the Dakar and the pair are targeting a strong start on the Peruvian dunes. When the rally gets underway this Saturday it will be out into the desert for five unforgiving stages on almost exclusively sandy terrain. Al-Attiyah and Baumel have a hard earned reputation as the best dune racing duo around and they will be looking to make that advantage count in the first week of the race.
“The first week promises to be crucial and the crew who comes out with a good lead will already have taken a big step towards the win.” – Nasser Al-Attiyah
South African De Villiers and German co-driver Dirk Von Zitzewitz have been heavily involved in the testing and development of the latest iteration of the Toyota Hilux. Adjustments include revised weight distribution as well as new BFGoodrich tyres, plus the car has shed 80 kilograms and suspension travel has increased by three centimetres.
“I cannot wait to start because this new Hilux is a big step forward.” – Giniel De Villiers
There’s been plenty of buzz among race fans and fellow competitors to see how Villas-Boas will cope with swapping the dugout for the bivouac. Well, it’s so far so good for the Portuguese Dakar rookie as well as his co-driver and fellow countryman Ruben Faria. With every Hilux entered into this Dakar safely through all of the pre-race technical checks it’s now time to focus 100 percent on the road ahead.
Faria’s extensive navigation experience picked up during his successful motorcycle career will be a major plus for Villas-Boas. Another benefit is the physical conditioning advice he has taken onboard from his physios and fitness staff that have assisted him at his various football clubs. The Dakar debutant is also extremely proud to be representing the three charities for which he holds an ambassadorial role – Laureus, Ace Africa and APPACDM Porto.
“Lots of people are tuning in to see what’s happening so it’s a great chance for me to raise awareness for these good causes.” – André Villas-Boas
Villas-Boas was originally up for racing a bike at the Dakar but his limited preparation time meant that four wheels trumped two. That leaves the Red Bull KTM Factory Team as the star attraction in the bike race as they look to make it 17 wins on the spin. Defending champion Sam Sunderland knows that carrying the #1 plate puts a target on his back for others to aim at but he’s ready for the challenge.
“It’s a long, long way and I’m sure plenty of things are going to happen.” – Sam Sunderland
Britain’s Sunderland is not the only member of his team who knows what it feels like to win the Dakar. Australia’s Toby Price is back on his bike after an injury-plagued year and eager to get up to speed.
“My expectations are always high, you want to be on that top step or at least inside the Top 3.” – Toby Price
Austria’s Matthias Walker and France’s Antoine Méo are also ready to pull their weight for the team to help maintain their fantastic winning tradition. Plus, there’s a new recruit this year as Spain’s Laia Sanz joins the squad on their quest for glory. Sanz is targeting a repeat performance of the Top 10 finish she scored three years ago.
“The only way you can try guard yourself against getting problems with the heat or altitude is by arriving here as physically fit as possible.” – Laia Sanz