Posted on January 07, 2019

The high-speed action is now underway at the 2019 Dakar Rally. Following Sunday evening’s start podium in Lima, racing has commenced at the 41st edition of the world’s toughest race.

There was a party atmosphere in Magdalena del Mar as all 334 vehicles and 541 competitors that will race the Dakar were waved off by thousands of fans. How many of those cars, trucks, bikes, quads and UTVs will cross the finish line back in Lima on January 17 remains to be seen. To do so they must complete 10 stages of desert racing, starting with today’s 331-kilometre route from Lima to Pisco.

Leaving Lima in style was nine-time WRC winner Sébastien Loeb (FRA), driving this Dakar as a privateer entrant. Once Loeb had taken his Peugeot 3008 DKR through technical scrutineering at Las Palmas Air Base he was challenged to a race – by an aeroplane pilot. "First of all, I go to the Dakar to compete. To win... honestly, I find it difficult to predict a race like this." – Sébastien Loeb Loeb is now racing his fourth Dakar and competing for the win against former team-mates Stéphane Peterhansel (FRA), Carlos Sainz (ESP) and Cyril Despres (FRA) as well as former winners Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT) and Giniel de Villiers (ZAF) among others. "Last year we finished in second place and we’ve improved a lot since last Dakar.” – Nasser Al-Attiyah

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With the big city comforts of the Peruvian capital now left behind, the Dakar convoy will be sleeping in desert bivouacs until it returns to Lima on the final day of racing in two weeks. The stress and exhaustion of racing in the dunes all the day is bound to take an effect as we get deeper into the rally. All competitors will be hoping to stay injury free, and in some cases avoid exacerbating bumps and bruises picked up earlier in the season. 2016 Dakar bike race winner Toby Price (AUS) starts the rally with a broken bone in his wrist healing as he rides. “There's a little bit of pain, for sure, the scaphoid's not the best bone to be breaking, but I'm still comfortable.” – Toby Price

Price, the only Australian to win the Dakar, is part of the Red Bull KTM Factory Team which is looking to pick up its 18th consecutive bike race victory. Joining Price in the fight for desert glory are his KTM team-mates Sam Sunderland (GBR), Matthias Walkner (AUT), Laia Sanz (ESP) and Luciano Benavides (ARG). Among those trying something for the first time at this Dakar – there are 135 rookies in total in 2019 – will be Ignacio Casale (CHI). Casale cannot be classed as a rookie, as well as racing in the bike and truck divisions he has won the quad race twice. But this year Casale enters his fourth Dakar category as he races a side-by-side UTV. “This is the category of the future. My main goal is to enjoy myself and then we’ll see just how I can play a role in the general standings as the days go by.” – Ignacio Casale

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Casale’s first Dakar attempt was in the truck category in 2010, a race that was won by Vladimir Chagin (RUS) behind the wheel of a Kamaz. Since retiring as a driver – after winning a total of seven Dakars – Chagin now serves as team manager for Kamaz. The Russian is predicting a tough race for his four man driver line-up of Eduard Nikolaev (RUS), Ayrat Mardeev (RUS), Dmitry Sotnikov (RUS) and Andrey Karginov (RUS). “Competition in the truck category is very high. The fight goes in minutes, in seconds. Our truck must be powerful, fast, light and perfectly reliable.” – Vladimir Chagin

Monday’s Dakar stage between Lima and Pisco features 84 kilometres of timed racing. It’s the shortest stage of the entire rally, but will still offer us some clues as to who is in good shape for the intense challenges ahead. On Tuesday the distance and difficulty increases as stage two has the convoy racing for nearly 350 kilometres between Pisco and San Juan de Marcona.