- The riders, drivers and crews on the Dakar 2018 have now completed technical and administrative scrutineering in Lima. 188 bikes and quads, 103 cars and SxS as well as 44 trucks will be taking starter’s orders, for a total of 335 vehicles ridden and driven by 523 competitors.
- The main favourites for the race rounded off proceedings, with the KTM riders and the four Peugeot crews in the car category, led respectively by title holders Sam Sunderland and Stéphane Peterhansel.
- For the first of the fourteen stages on the programme between Lima and the finish in Córdoba on 20th January, the vehicles will duke it out over a short-distanced special of 31 kilometres on the way to Pisco, entirely off-piste, at the end of which an initial race hierarchy will have been established…
It is now all over: no more gentle tourism in Lima, no more comfortable hotel rooms, no more tasty Pisco Sours for those who drank them (in moderation!), no more succulent ceviche and tiradito, these raw fish dishes that have built up the reputation of Peruvian gastronomy… Yet, for the riders, drivers and crews on the Dakar, none of the above is really essential: they always prefer sand and nights under canvas! In any case, it was the foretaste of competition that lit up the eyes of the pretenders for the titles, summoned throughout the morning to the Las Palmas air base for the last day of scrutineering. In the Yamaha team, Adrien Van Beveren’s eyes especially sparkled when he was asked about his chances of overall victory, which are far from slim on his third participation. “I’m still here to learn, but that doesn’t mean I can’t put in a performance. I think I have the ability to fight for the leading places,” explained the man from northern France, 4th in 2017, and who will have to do battle in particular with Sam Sunderland. The title holder is definitely not jaded by his triumph of last year: “Obviously coming in with the number 1 is a bit of pressure, but you can use that pressure in a good way and it gives you confidence”. Not content with having won the last 16 Dakar rallies, the KTM team is putting out a squad of winners in the making, but has also completely overhauled the machines. These developments could be a source of worry for their rivals, if Antoine Meo, back after his 7th place in 2016, is to be believed: “We’ve strived to lower the weight of the bike, which has provided performance gains, but it is also smaller and lower, making it easier to handle and more stable”.
In the car race, the outsiders have also undergone technical revolutions. The X-Raid team are not putting their eggs in one basket, with some drivers behind the wheel of the complete model of the Mini and others driving the two-wheel drive buggy designed to impose itself in the near future. On his return to the German team, Nani Roma has chosen to entrust the 4×4 version in which he triumphed in 2014: “In terms of performance, I think they are very similar, but I prefer to drive the former model, which I am used to driving. I’ve spent my whole career driving in a 4×4, so I didn’t want to disrupt my driving reflexes”. The most finely-tuned reflexes undoubtedly belong to Stéphane Peterhansel, who took part in his first Dakar 30 years ago and has won 13 times since. “Peter”, the Peugeot team leader, is unlikely to change his strategy based around consistency, but is expecting an intense battle, perhaps once again with his team-mate Sébastien Loeb: “He will be dangerous, but I know that Cyril Despres has also made plenty of progress on terrains which he found difficult on his arrival in the category, namely WRC type tracks. As for our rivals, I think the biggest threat will come from Nasser Al Attiyah, especially because the changes to the rules have allowed Toyota to make performance gains”. Finally, aware of his capacities as well as his limits, Loeb is not very worried about the speed of his 3008 Maxi, which he pushes like no other, but emphasises the pitfalls that could prevent him from obtaining victory on what is looking like his last chance: “At the start in Peru, but also in Argentina around Fiambalá, there will be stages where my WRC experience will not be of much use to me. It won’t just be a case of who is the fastest, making the least mistakes will be important as well”.
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Source: ASO + Dakar.com