The ultimate test of man and machine returns to South America in January with the best offroad racers in the world packing their bags to be part of the action. The 2017 Dakar Rally will break new ground as Paraguay becomes the 29th country to play host to the iconic event. As well as fresh challenges to be faced, there’s plenty of the potential pitfalls found in Bolivia and Argentina that have now become a legendary part of the Dakar experience.
The 10,000 kilometre route from Asunción to Buenos Aires, via La Paz, covers some of the most inhospitable terrain on the planet. Making life even more uncomfortable for competitors and their vehicles will be the scorching South American summer temperatures, the threat of torrential rainstorms and nosebleed inducing altitudes. Only the best in the business need apply for this one and that’s exactly who you’ll find within the Red Bull Desert Wings squad.
Reigning car category champions Team Peugeot Total return with the same D-ream Team that brought them glory last time out: Stéphane Peterhansel (FRA)/Jean-Paul Cottret (FRA), Cyril Despres (FRA)/David Castera (FRA), Sébastien Loeb (FRA)/Daniel Elena (MON) and Carlos Sainz (ESP)/Lucas Cruz (ESP). The major change to report for the French manufacturer ahead of the 2017 Dakar is that they come to South America with a brand-new car, the fearsome PEUGEOT 3008 DKR.
A year ago it was Stéphane, Monsieur Dakar himself, who secured the trophy for Peugeot with his 12th win at the prestigious rally. While Stéphane drives for win 13, his countrymen Cyril and Sébastien have accelerated their own rally-raid educations this year with impressive displays at the Silk Way Rally. Then there’s former Dakar winner Carlos who has collected an amazing 29 stage wins at the world’s toughest rally and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon
Last time out Stéphane’s Peugeot was joined on the final podium by a MINI and a Toyota and these two brands are back on the attack with strong driver line-ups of their own. Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Mathieu Baumel (FRA) and Giniel De Villiers (RSA)/Dirk von Zitzewitz (GER) will be racing with Toyota Gazoo Racing as they get behind the controls of the Hilux in South America. These formable pairings already have a total of three Dakar wins between them as well as the unquenchable desire to grab victory once more.
The threat coming from MINI’s operation within the bivouac includes Kuba Przygoński (POL)/Tom Colsoul (BEL) and Bryce Menzies (USA)/Peter Mortensen (USA). Kuba will be out to maintain Team ORLEN’s proud tradition of bringing home Polish pilots in the Top 10 on two and four wheels. Meanwhile, Bryce is set for his Dakar debut and will be the first American in six years to undertake the legendary race with the backing of a factory team. A 29 year-old native of Las Vegas, Menzies has been a dominant force in offroad since breaking into the sport in 2007, racking up numerous wins and championships in various classes. Bryce made history in August of this year when he set the World Record for farthest distance jumped in a truck when he launched his Pro 2 offroad truck 379.4 feet (115.6 metres) over a New Mexico ghost town. [Watch Bryce in offroad documentary Driving Dirty: The Road to the Baja 1000 on Red Bull TV.]
We’ll also be looking out for the challenge undertaken by Mohamed Abu Issa (QAT)/Xavier Panseri (FRA). The Qatari has impressed with recent quad bike performances but now he makes the switch to compete in the Dakar car class for the first time.
Our focus on the bike race also begins with a look at the current champion – the first Australian to ever win the Dakar – Toby Price (AUS). Toby’s sheer pace and power blew the Dakar away last time out as he took the overall lead with five stages remaining and held the position until the chequered flag fell in Rosario. Toby can expect stiff competition from fellow Red Bull KTM Factory Team riders Matthias Walkner (AUT) and Sam Sunderland (GBR) as they look to put injury induced disappointments at recent Dakars behind them.
We’ll also be keeping a close eye on two-time Dakar podium finisher Hélder Rodrigues (POR) and rookie Iván Ramirez (MEX). Iván got his shot at the world’s toughest race by winning the Dakar Challenge award thanks to a fantastic ride at the Sonora Rally in his native Mexico earlier this year. As each marathon stage and the physical demands of the contest take their toll, the bike race throws up plenty of surprises each year. Both Hélder and Iván have the skill and ambition to upset the odds in 2017.
If you want evidence of the Dakar’s ability to throw up a surprise result then look no further than the last running of the truck race. Team Kamaz Master had won all but three of the last 15 editions going into the 2016 Dakar, but at that race they were left applauding the victory of Dutchman Gerard de Rooy. Since then Kamaz team captain Vladimir Chagin, himself a record-holding seven-time single-category champion, has been working hard with his young generation of Russian truckers to come up with winning solutions. Modifications have been made to the truck but the driver line-up of Ayrat Mardeev (2015 winner), Andrey Karginov (2014 winner), Eduard Nikolaev (2013 winner) and Dmitry Sotnikov remains the same.
Since the Dakar moved to South America the quad discipline has proven a hit with locals as they have cheered a host of homegrown winners in this category. Among them is Ignacio Casale (CHI) who returns in 2017 looking to recapture the title he won in 2014 when the Dakar concluded in his native Chile. Meanwhile Marcos Patronelli (ARG), Dakar quad race winner in 2013 and 2016, takes a break from the race in 2017.
With the car, bike, truck and quad races at the upcoming Dakar all packed with top class talent the battle will be on to not only out do each other but also get the better of the insane challenges that await on the route. We’ll be there every step of way from the starting pistol in Asunción on January 2 until the chequered flag in Buenos Aires on January 14.
Carlos Sainz: “We’ve been improving a number of details for the PEUGEOT 3008 DKR such as suspension and engine drivability: all these things add up to make a difference. We’ve had a couple of tests and we raced in Morocco. We’ve stuck to a very good plan to arrive in the best possible way.”
Stéphane Peterhansel: “We’re coming back with a new car and this time we have the added bonus of air conditioning. Last time we were experiencing temperatures of 60 degrees Celsius in the car so this time it will much more comfortable for the drivers. In addition to this improvement there’s plenty about the PEUGEOT 3008 DKR that will make us a competitive team in 2017.”
Cyril Despres: “All the work on the car has now been done and I have been preparing myself physically for the demands of the Dakar. This year we will spend five days racing at an altitude of over 3,800 metres and this is something I’m not used to. You need to be in shape for a challenge like this.”
Sébastien Loeb: “It’s been another full season combining rallycross and rally-raid commitments. It’s all been enjoyable because I love to discover new challenges and I’m grateful that I’m allowed to do this. The Dakar is the longest race there is and there’s nothing quite like it. I feel much more prepared this time than I did for my debut last time out.”
Nasser Al-Attiyah: “We’re coming back to South America with the intention of winning the 2017 Dakar Rally. We have everything in place in this Toyota team to get the job done. We have the drivers, the co-drivers and great people around us which will allow us to fight for the win.”
Giniel De Villiers: “The Hilux this year is definitely the best Hilux I’ve driven. We’ve made improvements everywhere: engine, suspension, the whole lot. We’re definitely going to go out there and do our best, let’s see if we can get to the front.”
Kuba Przygoński: “I learned so much driving a car for the first time at the last Dakar and I still think I can improve a lot. This season I have got much better at judging my speed correctly within a race. I can’t wait to race another Dakar Rally.”
Bryce Menzies: “Competing in the Dakar has been my dream for quite a while. I’ve competed in several events on different terrains and although none of them prepared me for the Dakar 100 percent I feel good with this team and in the car.”
Toby Price: “When the Dakar finishes, the preparations basically begin straight away for the next one. Since January, the thought process has been in place for 2017. I’m going to attack it the same as I did this year. That’s the system that’s working for me and I try not to stress about it too much.”
Matthias Walkner: “At the last Dakar I suffered a big crash and I learned a lot from this. I now know the importance of staying 100 percent focused while racing no matter what type of stage you are riding. The race only ends when the flag falls.”
Sam Sunderland: “The Dakar organisers keep the details of each year’s route close to their chest until the last moment, but from what we’ve heard it’s going to be a pretty tough race. But every Dakar is hard, there’s never an easy one.”
Iván Ramírez: “I think the best advice I have been given is to remain patient throughout the Dakar. You need to assess in each moment if the time is right to go fast or to control your speed. You need to be thinking about what is coming next.”
Hélder Rodrigues: “We have been working hard on the bike this year to make the Yamaha WR450F more competitive than it has been in the past. Now we must back up this work with improved results at the Dakar.”
Vladimir Chagin, Team Kamaz Master captain: “The first thing you notice about the new truck is that the ride is smoother for the people in the cab, for the crew. Whenever we hit a bump the shock doesn’t go straight up into the spine as in the cab-over configuration where you’re sitting on top of the axle. Here the shock goes into the engine so the impression you get from this vehicle is that you’re driving an SUV, only much larger.”
Ignacio Casale: “I’m feeling very calm about the upcoming Dakar and I’m confident I will have the chance to show off my speed and ability during the race. I think this will be a fast race so I’m focused on maintain a good pace for the entire two weeks of the event.”