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Peterhansel ready to rule Dakar - again

2014-01-05 00:52

FLASHBACK TO DAKAR 2013: Frenchman Stephane Peterhansel celebrates in Santiago, Chile, on January 20 2013. It was his fifth win on four wheels - a record - and his 11th overall. Image: AFP

ROSARIO, Argentina - Frenchman Stephane Peterhansel is the big favourite to reclaim his Dakar Rally title when the gruellling 13-stage race starts here on Sunday.

Peterhansel's victory in 2013 was his 11th in the Dakar, five coming behind the wheel of a car, most recently a Mini, and six from 1991-98 on a Yamaha motorcycle, but the 48-year-old insisted there were "at least five competitors who could win the Dakar (car section) this year".

"Three of them are in my team," Peterhansel said in reference to Qatar's 2011 winner Nasser al-Attiyah, Spaniard Nani Roma (motorcycle winner in 2004 and second in the car section in 2012) and Argentina's Orlando Terranova.


South African Giniel de Villiers, three times a runner-up in his Toyota Hilux, and Spain's two-time World Rally champion Carlos Sainz, will also be contenders, Peterhansel said.

"The first difficulty will be the route, which is longer and more intense," he said.

The 13-stage race, with one rest day, will cover 9374km for cars, more than 5500km of that timed sections.

"The second difficulty will be Nasser (al-Attiyah). He's a formidable opponent but always dangerous and it's much better to have him in the team. In this race, each kilometre is a minefield. It's difficult to say which stage will be the toughest. I fear them all and each race is hard to win."

More than 400 vehicles - cars, motorcycles, quad bikes, trucks - will take part in the January 5-18 Dakar, the sixth to be held in South America.


The rally will start in Rosario and end in the Chilean resort city of Valparaiso, with five special stages marked out on completely separate routes, with motorcycles and quads on one hand and cars and trucks on the other.

Overall, the "separation" includes around 2000km of timed sections covering more than 40% of the distance. The bikers will also cross into Bolivia.

Organisers argue that "in sporting terms, this has the double advantage of taking motorcycle and quad riders on to more technical and narrower tracks during some stages, while enabling the leaders of the car race to 'hit the trail' without using the tracks left by the two-wheelers".

Cyril Despres, a five-times winner of the motorcycle section, said the 2014 edition would be "a huge challenge", not least because he changed from KTM to Yamaha, which has not won since 1998.


"I switched to start something else, to see another type of motorbike, to experience something else with new team mates and team spirit," Despres said. "It's certainly not easy but it's very exciting and it's true that there was a little joke with Stephane Peterhansel, who told me I was close to the same number of victories as him and it would be good to see it on a blue (Yamaha) motorbike.

"And there you go, seven months later, the joke has become a reality."

But Despres insisted beating Peterhansel's motorcycle record was "clearly not my goal". "I fight to win races," he said, "but I don't wake up during the night telling myself that I have to win a sixth trophy."

Bookmark Wheels24's special Dakar Rally section to keep up with event news and results.

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