Posted on January 06, 2019
The 2019 Dakar Rally has brought a festival of offroad racing to the Peruvian capital Lima. Everywhere you look you can see signs that the world’s toughest race has come to town and Dakar fever is gripping competitors and local fans alike.
From technical scrutineering at Las Palmas Air Base to the Dakar Village on the shore of the Pacific Ocean, the rally feels very much at home in Lima. The welcome in Peru sets us up for a fascinating fortnight of racing within the country when the first stage roars into life on Monday. The trio of MINI John Cooper Works Buggy drivers have been cheered wherever they have been in the city – from signing autographs at the Red Bull Energy Station in Magdalena del Mar to their successful shakedown exercise on the outskirts of Lima. Stéphane Peterhansel (FRA), Carlos Sainz (ESP) and Cyril Despres (FRA) are relishing another adventure on four wheels, and maybe one more title to add to their illustrious offroad careers.
Sébastien Loeb (FRA) is back at the Dakar, this time as a privateer entrant behind the wheel of a Peugeot 3008 DKR. It’s the car that he drove to second place at the 2017 Dakar and he’s gunning to go one better this time around. Toyota drivers Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT) and Giniel de Villiers (ZAF) have already embarked on two days of driving in the dunes of the Peru since arriving, looking to apply the final touches to the Hilux. This duo will be hunting for a final podium position alongside MINI John Cooper Works Rally driver and freshly crowned FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup winner Kuba Przygonski (POL).
The slick operation of the Red Bull KTM Factory Team that has won the last 17 Dakar bike races has been looking as imperious as ever. The three former Dakar winners in the team’s ranks – Toby Price (AUS), Sam Sunderland (GBR) and Matthias Walkner (AUT) – were desperate to try out the Peruvian dunes as soon as they landed in South America. The trio were joined on their shakedown on Friday by team-mates Laia Sanz (ESP) and Luciano Benavides (ARG). Also onboard a KTM 450 Rally bike at this Dakar is Stefan Svitko (SLO), who finished second overall behind Price in 2016.
If KTM’s dominant grip on the Dakar is to be relinquished this year it could be a Honda machine that pips them to the biggest prize in endurance biking. Bolivian brothers Daniel and Walter Nosiglia both race a Honda CRF 450 Rally and will be looking to do South America proud at this edition of the Dakar. There’s also CS Santosh (IND) on a Hero 450 Rally as well as Anastasiya Nifontova (RUS) on a Husqvarna bike who are preparing to duel in the dunes.
There’s perhaps no more impressive sight at the Dakar than the mighty blue armada of Team Kamaz Master. The Russians are serial winners of the truck category and have built up a legion of fans in Peru during the Dakar’s time in South America. Reigning Dakar champion Eduard Nikolaev (RUS) has been getting cheered throughout Lima, alongside team-mates Ayrat Mardeev (RUS), Dmitry Sotnikov (RUS) and Andrey Karginov (RUS). On Monday’s first stage these truckers will be out to defend Kamaz’s proud tradition at the Dakar, a tradition that includes winning eight races in the last decade.
Trying something new at the 2019 Dakar will be a pair of Chileans who have both enjoyed previous success at the rally. Two-time quad race winner Ignacio Casale (CHI) is enrolled in the UTV category, as is two-time bike race podium finisher Chaleco Lopez (CHI). Given their triumphs in other categories, this duo will both be aiming to take the Dakar’s newest category by storm. Following Sunday evening’s podium presentation ceremony in Lima, the first stage of the 2019 Dakar Rally will take place on Monday. An 84-kilometre special stage between Lima and Pisco will let us know who has got their preparation spot on, and who is in for tough two weeks in the dunes.