DEFENDING THE CROWN: The Mini All4Racing team is returning to South America to defend its crown in the 2015 Dakar Rally with a 10-strong All4Racing entry. Image: Mini
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina - With three consecutive successes and a Mini of proven reliability and performance, the X-Raid team can claim to be the favourite for the 2015 Dakar with title-holder Nani Roma and Nasser al Attiyah.
However, the arrival of a majestic trio behind the wheels of the brand new Peugeots could disrupt their march to victory, as could the improving performance expected from the Toyota drivers.
The deployment of strength is still just as impressive in the X-Raid team, which will have 10 Mini All4Racing cars in the rally this year. What’s more, thisarmada will be supplemented by a Buggy, displaying Sven Qandt’s thirst for innovation. The German boss is entrusting this vehicle of the future to a team member of the past, who drove the Mini on its baptism of fire on the Dakar 2011: Guerlain Chicherit.
However, to move from a fine series of victories to what would become a veritable Mini era, the team is counting on a masterful quartet including two former winners, Joan “Nani” Roma and Nasser al Attiyah, and two very experienced pretenders to the crown, Orlando Terranova and Krzysztof Holowczyc. Nevertheless, even with four first-rate drivers, the three-times title-winners are not safe from the competition which has been transformed since the last edition.
Out of the last five winners still racing, three drive for teams other than X-Raid and intend to make life difficult for the Minis.
The entry into action of the Peugeot DKR 2008 could be a game-changer, since the lion brand has recruited the driver with the most titles on the event, Stéphane Peterhansel; the driver considered to be the fastest, Carlos Sainz; and surely the most promising newcomer, five-times motorcycle winner Cyril Despres. If the prowess displayed by the technical teams in other disciplines proves to be transposable to rally-raid, the return of Peugeot to the Dakar could see thelion roar.
However, the new entrants to the rally are not the only ones wanting to upset the statistical favourites. In the Toyota team, Giniel de Villiers is counting on a significantly re-engineered South African Hilux bakkie to return to the highest step of the podium that he conquered in 2009 on the first loop from Buenos Aires and back.
The Overdrive clan will also have the opportunity to shine with Christian Lavieille, Marek Dabrowski or Lucio Alvarez.
The journey through the list of competitors also reminds that buggy drivers are also capable of glorious feats, achieving perfectly deserved finishes in the Top 10, or even better. Robby Gordon, on the podium in 2009, still hopes to see a new version of his “Gordini” triumph on the Dakar.
In a more discreet but perhaps just as ambitious manner, Philippe Gache does not intend to content himself with his regular status as a member of the elite: returning to the wheel of the leading SMG buggy, he will be backed by Adam Malysz and Ronan Chabot.
In the squad of MD Rallye’s Optimus buggies, the entry into competition of the two-times winner of the Le Mans 24 hours, Romain Dumas, will be particularly observed, with Pascal Thomasse as his specialist teacher for the dunes.
Lastly, Argentini will also be represented by the driver of one of the two Renault Dusters. Emiliano Spataro, knocking on the door of the top 10, has all the qualities to make an entrance.
Stay with Wheels24 for daily coverage of the 2015 Dakar Rally.