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2014-01-06 07:23

RIVERSIDE SEND-OFF: Team Ford Racing’s Dakar Rally adventure is under way after an estimated million people packed the Argentine city of Rosario for the start. Image: Ford

ROSARIO, Argentina - Team Ford Racing’s Dakar Rally adventure is  under way after an estimated million people packed the Argentine city of Rosario on Sunday evening to watch a spectacular and colourful riverside start.

Fans lined the roads many deep alongside the Paraná River to cheer the 439 competing vehicles on their way at the start of the gruelling 14-day, 9300km slog through Argentina and Chile.

Among them for the first time were the two Ford Ranger bakkies of Argentines Lucio Alvarez / Ronnie Graue and South Africans Chris Visser / Japie Badenhorst.

FIFTH APPEARANCE

As a stunt plane weaved through the sky Alvarez and Graue received a tumultuous reception from their countrymen as they edged their Ranger on to the start podium in the shadow of the Monumento de la Bandera, built to commemorate the creation of the blue and white Argentine flag.

It's their fifth appearance at this legendary event but no less welcome were South Africans Visser and Badenhorst, who are taking on the Dakar challenge for the first time.

It was also a proud moment for Neil Woolridge and Scott Abraham, managers of the South African squad and responsible for  bringing Ford into the Dakar for the first time and the entire team of engineers, mechanics and support staff which gathered next to the podium.

Also taking the start was the Team Ford Racing MAN 4x4 race support truck crewed by Thomas Wallenwein, Sean Smith-Baillie and Gabriel Moiset.

The first day of competition left Rosario for a monster 809km opening leg, one of the longest of the event. A 405km liaison skirted the city of Cordoba followed by a 180km off-road special stage followed by another 224km liaison to an overnight at San Luis.
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