Will Mini dominate this year’s Dakar?
Stephane Peterhansel has too much respect for the Dakar Rally to consider another victory for himself or his Mini team mates a certainty.
However, few are betting against Peterhansel or the drivers of the five other Minis entered by German team X-raid in the world's toughest rally, which will start on Saturday in Peru for the first time.
In 2012 X-raid Minis came first and second, and all five placed in the top 10.
This time, X-raid manager Sven Quandt has entered six Minis - plus a BMW for good measure - with three of their drivers among the favourites: Peterhansel of France, Nani Roma of Spain and Krzysztof Holowczyc of Poland.
The Dakar Rally - first run in 1978 - will kick off its 34th edition on Saturday, over a gruelling 8400km route, as 459 motorcycles, quads, cars and trucks blast their way from the Peruvian capital of Lima over the Andes and across the Atacama desert to the finish line in Santiago, Chile on January 20.
Traditionally the Paris-Dakar Rally Raid, to give it its official title, used to start in Paris on New Year's Day and finish on the beach at Lac Rose outside Dakar, the capital of Senegal in French-speaking West Africa - except for 1992, when it ran the whole length of Africa to finish at Milnerton, just north of Cape Town.
However, for the past five years it's been run in South America due to security issues along the original route - but after 35 years it's still known simply as 'the Dakar'.
TWO WEEKS OF HELL ON WHEELS
It's billed as the toughest motorsport contest on the planet, although organisers have been keen to play down the dangers associated with a race that has claimed 59 lives, including 20 spectators, over the years.
Twelve months ago, Argentinian rider Jorge Martinez Boero was killed on the first day of the race.
This year, around 150 security staff as well as 60 doctors and surgeons will be deployed, backed up by five helicopters and 10 medical vehicles, all mobilised 24 hours a day.
Nevertheless, race organiser Etienne Lavigne insists:
“This is an extreme sport. Zero risk doesn't exist.”
Peterhansel, who has won the Dakar six times on motorcycles and four times on four wheels, will defend his title as strong favourite in the car category, but faces a stiff challenge from former winners, Nasser al-Attiyah of Qatar (2011), Spanish driver Carlos Sainz (2010) and South African Giniel de Villiers, who won in 2009 in a works VW Touareg.
This year, for the second time, De Villiers will lead a two-car 'works' Toyota team in 4x4 Hilux bakkies built by Glynn Hall at Hallspeed in Centurion. De Villiers finished third, first time out in a similar Hilux, last year and must be considered a strong contender for overall victory.
The motorcycle category sees the return of the Honda team who have been absent since 1992.
It was set to feature another intense rivalry between defending champion Cyril Despres of France and Spaniard Marc Coma who have shared the past seven titles.
However, Coma crashed out of the recent Morocco Rally and won't make the start, making Helder Rodrigues of Portugal the main threat to Despres after he finished on the podium in 2011 and 2012.
The route will begin for the first time on the desert sands south of Lima before gradually becoming more difficult as it winds along the Pacific coast before two diversions into mainland Argentina and a series of dangerous sections through valleys and canyons in the Andes mountains, for a total of 14 stages across three countries. - AFP, Sapa-dpa
Stage 1 - 5 January: Lima - Pisco, Peru (13km)
Stage 2 - 6 January: Pisco - Pisco, Peru (242km)
Stage 3 - 7 January: Pisco - Nazca, Peru (243km)
Stage 4 - 8 January: Nazca - Arequipa, Peru (288km cars/trucks; 289km motorcycles/quads)
Stage 5 - 9 January: Arequipa - Arica, Peru (172km cars/trucks; 136km motorcycles/quads)
Stage 6 - 10 January: Arica - Calama, Peru (454km)
Stage 7 - 11 January: Calama, Peru - Salta, Argentina (220km)
Stage 8 - 12 January: Salta - Tucuman, Argentina (470km cars; 155km trucks; 491km motorcycles/quads)
Rest day - 13 January 13: Tucuman, Argentina
Stage 9 - 14 January: Tucuman - Cordoba, Argentina (593km cars/motorcycles/quads; 293km trucks)
Stage 10 - 15 January: Cordoba - La Rioja, Argentina (353km cars/trucks; 357km motorcycles/quads)
Stage 11 - 16 January: La Rioja - Fiambala, Argentina (219km cars/trucks; 221km motorcycles/quads)
Stage 12 - 17 January: Flambala, Argentina - Copiapo, Chile (319km)
Stage 13 - 18 January: Copiapo - La Serena, Chile (441km)
Stage 14 - 19 January: La Serena - Santiago, Chile (128km)