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2011-12-09 08:21

THE BOSS SPEAKS: Dakar rally race director Etienne Lavigne at the official presentation in Buenos Aires of the 2012 Dakar Rally route. It will be run through Argentina, Chile and Peru from Jan 1-15, 2012. Image: AFP

PARIS, France - Qatari driver Nasser Al-Attiyah, winner of the 2011 Dakar Rally, will defend his title in the 33rd race in January, 2012, according to the event's organisers.

The announcement from the Amaury Sport Organisation comes only three weeks before the rally starts on January 1 in Mar del Plata, Argentina, and despite the withdrawal of the VW for which he raced in 2011.


Al-Attiyah, a son of Qatar's energy minister, wll instead drive a Hummer for Team Robby Gordon as he tries to match the achievements of Finn Ari Vatanen by winning the Dakar Rally in consecutive years.

Vatanen won the famous race in 1990 and 1991 when it was still raced across the Sahara desert.

Al-Attiyah's car will carry the number 300 - traditionally reserved for the defending champion - but he will be up against South Africa's Giniel de Villiers who will start from pole.


The race will start in Mar del Plata, on Argentina's Atlantic (east) coast and end on the Pacific (west) coast at Lima in Peru on January 15.

The 2012 Rally will run for 14 days in total - the 2011 race was over 12 - with five stages in Argentina, five in Chile and four in Peru.

Last month Al-Attiyah claimed he would race for Citroen in the 2012 World Rally championship - a claim the automaker denied.

The 2012 Dakar Rally is a coast-to-coast trek from the Argentine city of Mar del Plata on the Atlantic to the Peruvian capital Lima on the Pacific, organisers revealed on Tuesday.

BOLDLY GOING...: The 8500km of the 2012 Dakar Rally in South America.

The 33rd Dakar, which starts on January 1, is the fourth to be held in South America, the two-week event having moved to the continent after the 2008 edition was called off due to security issues.

Dakar director Etienne Lavigne said: "There will be five stages in Argentina, five more in Chile, and then four to finish with in Peru, making up 14 days of racing compared to 12 last year.

"With Peru and its fabled dunes added to the programme its going to be an extremely tough race that's awaiting competitors. There's a great variety of difficulties."

Up to now the circuit for motorsport's most gruelling of events in South America has begun and finished in Buenos Aires.

A total of 465 competitors have entered the 2012 race - 171 cars, 185 motorcycles, 76 trucks and 33 quad bikes. The route is 8500km long with 4200km made up of special stages.

Two of the toughest specials will be the 12th - a 246km drive from Arequipa to Nasca - and the 13th, 276km from Nasco to Pisco across the dunes.

"It's the route which will determine the quality of this edition," commented Lavigne, "but it's obvious that we're looking to increase the level of sporting interest."

Spain's Marc Coma, who added the 2011 motorcycle title to his wins in 2006 and 2009, aims to add a fourth victory with France's three-time former winner Cyril Despres one of his main rivals.


Among the cars Stephane Peterhansel, who has won the Dakar a record nine times (six on a motorcycle and three in a car) will once again be one of the main favourites, along with Carlo Sainz and South Africa's Giniel de Villiers.

50 nationalities are represented in the starting list.

The 2012 Dakar is due to be screened to 190 countries with organisers hoping for an increase in the five-million viewers who followed the action in 2011.

After the success of the rally in Argentina and Chile a host of countries, including Brazil and Bolivia, applied to receive the event in 2013. Lavigne said: "We are studying the possibilities for 2013 - we are ruling nothing out. The only thing that's certain is that the finish will be in central region of Chile."

After 29 editions in Africa from 1979 to 2007 the Dakar switched continents in 2009 because of worries about insurrection in the area.

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