YOUTH AGAINST EXPERIENCE: After his third place finish in the 2012 competition, fellow Argentine Tomas Maffei will be looking to challenge Marcos Patronelli for the top spot in the category for 2013.
Three years into the reign of the Patronelli brothers in the Dakar Rally, the first signs are emerging that Spanish-speaking pilots could soon lose their grip on the quad category in 2013.
The Polish clan, for example, could very well upset the Argentine and Chilean riders...
Growing interest in quads and the unique sensations they provide, together with the traditional culture of cross-country racing in South America, has helped the quad category flourish ever since the Dakar first came to this continent in 2009.
40 quads representing 12 nationalities will be on the Dakar start line in Lima on January 5, a threefold increase on the 13 quads which featured in the last Dakar in Africa. Half of pilots in the field hail from one of the three host countries.
They have not only been the most numerous contingent in the last few editions of the Dakar, but also the strongest, with Spanish-speaking pilots claiming 9 out of 12 podium places in the last four years!
NEW CONTENDERS EMERGE
However, ominous clouds are gathering on the horizon. The Patronellis' family saga enters a new chapter full of twists and turns as Marcos finds himself without two-time champion Alejandro, who is skipping this year's rally for professional reasons.
Marcos already proved he was unfazed by solitude when he won the rally in 2010, but this year round he will come up against much tougher rivals on the tracks and dunes. The Argentinean clan will put up a strong fight in the shape of young Tomás Maffei, who is ready to step out of the Patronellis' shadow and improve on last year's third place.
Other big names from South America are Chile's Ignacio Casale and Uruguay's Sergio La Fuente, who rounded off the Top 5 in the last edition and are hungry for more.
But the greatest threat could very well come from overseas. Poland's Lukasz Laskawiec and Rafal Sonik finished on the podium in 2011 and 2009, respectively, but they were struck off the quad general classification last year because their vehicles did not meet the technical requirements laid down in the rulebook.
They will be extra careful and extra determined to win this year. Newcomers to a discipline are rarely ranked among the favourites, but it would be unfair to slap the "rookie" label on a pilot like Dutchman Kees Koolen, who has already finished the Dakar in a motorcycle and a single-seat buggy and is now eager for a new challenge in this category.
It would be even more unfair for Emirati Sebastian Husseini, who has never had a taste of the Dakar before but was crowned World Champion in 2007. He and his famous driving skills have South American quad pilots trembling in their boots.