Debutant Sébastien Loeb features in the largest ever entry of Red Bull competitors in the 2016 edition of the Dakar Rally starting in Buenos Aires in January.The team, known as the Desert Wings, features multiple champions as well as exciting rookies. The squad will be out to master the harsh terrain and conditions that make the Dakar the toughest race on the planet.
One of the main talking points in January will be the progress of Loeb.
The Frenchman is already a motorsport superstar thanks to his nine consecutive World Rally Championship titles, but now he has his sights set on cross-country racing. Alongside Loeb and his longtime co-driver Daniel Elena in Team Peugeot Total are three crews coming back for another ride in the PEUGEOT 2008DKR. Stéphane Peterhansel, Carlos Sainz and Cyril Despres have 17 Dakar victories between them and will be co-driven by Jean-Paul Cottret, Lucas Cruz and David Castera respectively.
The only man who can match Peterhansel’s two Dakar car race victories in South America is Nasser Al-Attiyah. The Qatari speedster and co-driver Mathieu Baumel are not only the reigning Dakar champions, but also won this season’s FIA Cross-Country Rally World Cup. The desert racing duo return in the X-raid MINI they used to win the 2015 Dakar and are serious contenders to taste victory once again. Also at the controls of MINIs at this upcoming Dakar are Poles Adam Malysz and Kuba Przygonski, co-driven by Xavier Panseri and Andrei Rudnitski.
Challenging the PEUGEOT 2008DKR and MINI crews will be 2009 Dakar champion Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz. The South African driver and German co-driver have finished second three times in the last five Dakars and have the potential to park their Toyota Hilux on the top step of podium this time around.
The previous 10 editions of the Dakar bike contest have been won by either Despres or Marc Coma, but this time neither of them will be in this race.
The door is wide open for another two-wheel wonder to emerge and Austrian Matthias Walkner looks primed for success. Walkner impressed during his Dakar debut 10 months ago and has since gone on to win this season’s FIM World Cross-Country Rallies Championship. There’s also plenty more speed in the Red Bull KTM Factory Team paddock Walkner will share with Jordi Viladoms, Toby Price and Antoine Meo. Multiple enduro world champion Ivan Cervantes is also riding the Dakar onboard KTM machinery.
Elsewhere in the bike race Spaniard Joan ‘Bang Bang’ Barreda will be hoping this can be his breakthrough year, the Honda rider’s speed has never been in question and if he can avoid too many mechanical hiccups along the way he could get hold of the big prize. Also watch out for Portugal’s Hélder Rodrigues who is back with Yamaha, a partnership that has already returned to podium finishes in South America.
A fine 1-2-3 finish to the truck race of the 2015 Dakar saw Team Kamaz Master perform a clean sweep of the podium places. Team captain Vladimir Chagin, himself a record holding seven-time single category champion, will send four crews into battle led by drivers Ayrat Mardeev (2015 winner), Andrey Karginov (2014 winner), Eduard Nikolaev (2013 winner) and Dmitry Sotnikov.
The quad race looks the most likely category for a local victory with Argentine Marcos Patronelli back in the race. The two-time Dakar winner will get plenty of support along the route, but there’s a hungry crop of young riders ready to wrestle victory away. Mohamed Abu Issa from Qatar is one such up and coming quad biker rider who appears set to challenge for top honours at this Dakar.