‘Marathon’ Dakar route unveiled as Peugeot return

 The 2015 Dakar Rally starts in Buenos Aires on January 7, the gruelling three-week test of man and machine taking in Chile’s Atacama desert and Bolivia’s salt flats before a finish back in the Argentine capital.The seventh edition to be held in South America and unveiled in Paris on Wednesday, marks the return of Peugeot, the once-dominant Dakar competitor back in the line-up after a 25-year absence.

Dakar desert

The French carmaker collected four Dakar titles when the gruelling event was held in Africa in the late 1980s.

For its second appearance on the Dakar menu, Bolivia will play host to cars, motorcycles and quads, with only the trucks kept off the stunning salt flats.

While the 37th Dakar confines itself to Argentina, Chile and Bolivia, organisers have not ruled out crossing new frontiers in the future.

“We’ve had talks with Colombia and Equador who are keen enough to get involved,” Dakar director Etienne Lavigne told AFP.

“But it’s a question of fitting all the pieces of the jigsaw together.”

January’s marathon takes the Dakar caravan from the Atacama, the driest spot on the planet, to the Iquique dunes and crossing the Andes at the highest point on Argentina’s Route 40, the 4,970m mountain pass of Abra del Acay.

Giniel de Villiers at Iguigue 2014 Dakar
Giniel de Villiers at Iguigue 2014 Dakar

“It’s going to be a marathon for everybody,” promised Lavigne.

A 9,200 kilometre marathon to be precise, with 4,600km of special stages including a 781km time trial from the Bolivian city of Uyuni to Chile’s Pacific Coast and the vertiginous Iquique dunes.

At the Buenos Aires start, 414 machines of various shapes and sizes will set off for what Lavigne describes as “the Everest of motorsport”.

For its return, Peugeot has signed up three Dakar stars – 11-time winner Stephane Peterhansel, five-time winner Cyril Despres, and former world rally champion Carlos Sainz, the winner in 2010.

Peugeot are out to dethrone Mini, the British marque which claimed last year’s edition with Nani Roma at the wheel.

In all, 665 professional and amateur competitors from 53 countries are due to enter the Dakar fray with for the first time India, New Zealand and Turkmenistan represented.