Dakar

Dakar 2016: a pause for Chile

The Chilean government and the Dakar management have recognized how difficult it is to organize the next edition of the rally in Chile due to the natural disasters that have hit the northern regions of the country. The teams are already working to create the conditions for a return of the event in January 2017.

Since the arrival of the Dakar on the South American Continent in 2009, Chile has occupied a central place on the routes that were mapped out. The Atacama Desert, with regular stages at Copiapo, Iquique and Antofagasta, as well as the cities of Valparaiso and Santiago, which have respectively hosted the arrival in 2013 and 2014, are now part of the rally's landscape. Beyond the sporting episodes played out in these territories, these seven years of close collaboration have forged strong links between the Chilean authorities and the Dakar organizing teams. In offering an atypical adventure to the competitors and a unique television spectacle aired in 190 countries (see media benefits below), Chile offers a terrain that is ideal for the on-going discovery of South America. 

During the last few weeks, Chile was victim to flooding that has severely affected the country and its inhabitants, particularly the northern regions that have traditionally hosted the rally. A significant amount of emergency services has been urgently deployed, as well as the reconstruction work scheduled in the coming month has fully mobilized the Chilean authorities and have made hosting the Dakar in normal conditions impossible. Dakar Director, Etienne Lavigne details the phases that precipitated the decision to abandon a Chilean adventure this year: “We have carefully followed the situation and hope that despite these disasters, the region of the Atacama Desert and the cities that were affected regain their vigour. But the many reconnaissance trips that are necessary, in collaboration with the many Chilean administrative services, cannot be carried out according to the calendar we have planned.” For her part, Chilean Minister of Sport, Mrs. Natalia Riffo said that “the country must adapt to the reality that our countrymen in the north are experiencing today. The government's current priority is to help this region overcome and organize relief help. Then, we will take another look at hosting the Dakar in 2017, as we have each year.”    

The route for the 2016 Dakar will be revealed at a presentation event in Paris on April 16.
 
THE DAKAR IN CHILE
> 39 stages contested since 2009
>  Two final arrivals: Santiago (2013) and Valparaiso (2014)
> 1 million spectators on average on the Chilean section of the rally
>  More than $400 million of media benefits (valorisation 2015)
>  More than $36 million economic benefits on average per edition

Dakar Challenge: Jason Venter nabs the first wildcard

The new Dakar Challenge season got under way in South Africa with the RFS Endurance in Harrismith, where Leeroy Poulter won the first leg of the championship and Jason Venter clinched the first ticket for the 2016 Dakar!

There was a whiff of the Dakar in the air around Harrismith this weekend. Rainy periods in this region are few and far between, but the highland landscapes were transformed by a deluge for the first leg of the South African rally championship. River crossings and torrents of mud conjured memories of waterlogged, Dantesque stages in the Dakar, such as last January's Bolivian adventure or the final special to Buenos Aires, which was raced on an extremely slippery course. It must have hit Leeroy Poulter that it was precisely that day when he achieved his best finish in a Dakar stage, second place (and sixteenth overall). The multiple-time South African rally champion no doubt drew upon his experience to dominate the race at the wheel of his Toyota Hilux, one of only 18 vehicles to survive the deluge (43 cars on the start line).
 
In such cataclysmic circumstances, the Dakar Challenge could only crown a candidate who has what it takes to tackle the toughest stages in the Dakar. Colin Matthews looked strongest in the face of the weather throughout the entire weekend, but the favourite learned the hard way that, in the unforgiving world of sport, nothing's over till it's over. Matthews drove flawlessly for no fewer than 778 of the 780 km on the menu, but mechanical disaster struck with 2 km to go and Matthews saw his Dakar dreams washed away. 24-year-old Jason Venter capitalised on Matthews' misfortune to show that toughness and resilience do not necessarily come with age. At the end of the day, the young driver at the wheel of the same Toyota Hilux Giniel De Villiers drove in 2013 (runner-up) beat Portugal's Rómulo Branco by over an hour, while Matthews managed to stay on the podium of the Challenge by the skin of his teeth.

Dakar Challenge: Kickoff in South Africa

This coming 27 and 28 March, the Dakar Challenge selection campaign begins on the RFS Endurance in South Africa. Even before the beginning of registration, a team
debuting in the car category will already win its entry for the 2016 Dakar.

South Africa has a unique place in Dakar history: the memory of the longest saga upon the arrival in Cape Town more than twenty years ago, the victory of its most prestigious representative, Giniel De Villiers, during the maiden South American edition of the rally, and for the past few years, an affirmed presence both on two and four wheels. During the last three years, a new event has been run to detect the most promising talents from this country known for its all-terrain competitions, in one of the rounds of the South African championship. Johan Van Staden (31st last January) participated in his first Dakar after he won his entry on the Toyota 1000 Desert Race in Botswana.

This weekend, it is the opening round of the South African championship that was chosen to host the Dakar Challenge. Thus, the winner of the Harrismith RFS Endurance will benefit from a less stressful deadline to sign his sponsors and complete his budget for the 2016 Dakar. The 698 kilometre race will be held in the heart of the bush and six teams are planning to battle for the big prize. Among them, two-time South African champion in his category (Class P), John Thomson, who will be one of the more serious contenders, but he will have to keep an eye on Jason Venter who represents the future of South African all-terrain competition as well as the Portuguese crew and its driver Romulo Branco, whose debut in the championship is highly anticipated.

Dakar Challenge: Italy joins the fun

In a car or on a bike, the passion for all-terrain competition can be found on all continents.

With or without navigation difficulties or passages over dunes, many leading races welcome riders and drivers whose playground, for some, is limited, despite their talent, to the borders of their home country. To find the best amongst them and allow them to try their luck on the rally of their dreams, several races are selected each year to welcome the Dakar Challenge, a special classification reserved for riders and drivers who have never taken part in the Dakar. This season, the first event will take place in South Africa in March with the RFS Endurance Harrismith. The two Dakar Series rallies of the year, in Argentina and Paraguay, will be the only ones to offer simultaneous admission to the rally in the car, bike and quad categories. The Baja 500 in Mexico will only concern the car crews, whilst the Sardegna Rally Race, which is on the programme of the FIM world cup, will make its debut as a Dakar Challenge event.

The Dakar Challenge calendar in 2015:
27th/28th March: RFS Endurance Harrismith / South Africa (cars)
18th/24th May: Desafio Ruta 40 - Dakar Series / Argentina (cars, bikes, quads)
4th/7th June: 47th Bud Light SCORE Baja 500 / Mexico (cars)
6th/11th June: Sardegna Rally Race / Italy (bikes)
6th/12th July: Desafio Guarani - Dakar Series / Paraguay (cars, bikes, quads)

A new mission for Quinn Cody

In the USA, thoughts are also focusing on the Dakar and the month of January.

The all-terrain community is particularly active and the riders and drivers are becoming increasingly attracted to rally-raid's biggest event. In order to help pretenders who are hesitating in taking the plunge for this challenge and to supply them with precious advice, the organisers of the Dakar have entrusted Quinn Cody with the role of ambassador. On his first participation in the rally in 2011, the American rider showed dazzling form to obtain 9th place in the general classification. Although he has not managed to improve on this result since, the four times winner of the Baja 1000 is still a major player in the world of motorsport in the USA.

DAKAR SERIES 2015: IN ARGENTINA AND PARAGUAY

The Dakar Series has become the way to go in preparing for the Dakar. This year, the Desafío Ruta 40 and Desafío Guaraní will once again be the scene of some world-class competition between the top South American racers.

Determined and focused on their objectives, the Dakar competitors also standout by their ability to regroup towards their next challenges. After the joys or disappointments of the 2015 edition, it is now time to prepare for the next challenge, which for many involves a confrontation on intermediate events, beginning with the two rounds of the Dakar Series that will be part of the program during 2015. First up will be Argentina with the Desafío Ruta 40 in May where the protagonists of next year's Dakar will be in action. A few weeks later, the second edition of the Desafío Guaraní will be held in Paraguay with significantly different terrain that will offer the variety that is so characteristic of the Dakar.
 
The titles up for grabs in the bike, quad and car categories are now proper goals that the big names in the sport thrive to achieve. Making matters even more interesting is the combined classification of the two events, in which a trophy will be rewarded to the Dakar Series champions, as well as a free entry for the 2016 Dakar. Those competitors who have never participated in the Dakar will also enter a race within the race on the Desafío Ruta 40 and the Desafío Guaraní: the Dakar Challenge will offer a spot in the Dakar to the fastest among these newcomers who want to take part in the biggest rally-raid in the world.
 
The 2015 Dakar Series calendar:
 • Desafío Ruta 40 (Argentina): 18 - 24 May
 • Desafío Guaraní (Paraguay): 6 - 12 July

Winning the Dakar like a boss

216. The number of competitors who managed to finish the 2015 Dakar (79 motorcycles, 18 quads, 68 cars and 51 trucks) out of the 420 which started the rally. Two of them, Ivan Jakeš and Robby Gordon, won the final stage in the motorcycle and car categories, respectively. However, the spotlight was on Marc Coma, who drew upon his experience to take his fifth Dakar, and Nasser Al-Attiyah, who claimed his second one after dominating the entire two-week rally.

Marc Coma is now level with Cyril Despres, a fact which will please the Frenchman's eternal rival at the Dakar to no end and —just like his former teammate— puts him just one triumph away from the record held by legend Stéphane Peterhansel. Their equal number of wins takes on a special dimension considering the dominance of the two men throughout the last ten editions of the Dakar, as well as the good-natured competition which fuels their ambition. For the first time in ten years, Despres was not there to take the fight to Coma, having switched to the car category this year, but the Spaniard still had to fight tooth and nail for his resounding victory in Buenos Aires... As in 2014, Joan Barreda was clearly the toughest rival the KTM rider came up against in Argentina, Chile and Bolivia. The HRC rider won stage 2 with the added bonus of the overall lead, opening a crucial 12-minute gap thanks to the latter's tyre problems. From the very next stage, the two Spaniards played cat and mouse, riding together and taking turns to claw back the two minutes separating them at the start of the special. This little game lasted several days to the benefit of Barreda, who looked like he had finally acquired the experience needed to fight for victory until the end without making any mistakes.
However, Coma bided his time like a feline waiting to pounce at the slightest opportunity. Marc found an opening in stage 8 after his Spanish rival suffered a mechanical. The no. 2 Honda, damaged by the crossing of the waterlogged Salar de Uyuni, had to be towed to Iquique by Jeremías Israel Esquerre. This decisive turn of events gave Marc Coma the reins of the rally, which he kept until Buenos Aires. However, the KTM rider still had to see off a determined Paulo Gonçalves who was out to avenge the honour of the world's leading maker, thwarted by its Austrian nemesis for the third time since its official rally raid comeback. The Portuguese rider never gave up, but he finally had to settle for a well-deserved second place. As well-deserved as amazing Toby Price's third step on the podium. The 27-year-old rookie from Down Under will be worth keeping an eye on in upcoming editions. The KTM rider claimed stage 12 and kept getting stronger as the race went on, pulling off an impressive streak of eight top 5 places and bested Pablo Quintanilla for third place at the end of the rally, making him the best rookie since his fellow countryman Andy Haydon in 1998.
However, his Chilean rival has good reason to be happy with his rally after having to withdraw from his first two editions of the Dakar, winning the gruelling eighth stage. He too will probably come back with loftier goals in 2016. Among those who did not make it to the finish, Sam Sunderland will be seeking to bounce back and gain consistency in 2016 after winning the first special this year, just like Matthias Walkner, who also won a stage in his maiden Dakar and represents the new generation of rally raid together with Price. Laia Sanz did reach Buenos Aires and showed flashes of brilliance throughout the 2015 edition, claiming a fantastic fifth place in Iquique and, even more importantly, ninth overall, up there with the big guns. The pretty Catalan even beat Olivier Pain, who barely had any presence in the race for the Yamaha clan.
Nasser Al-Attiyah won the first stage but was handed down a time penalty for speeding in the link section. No big deal for the Qatari. He had sent his rivals a clear message: this was going to be his year. The Mini driver rammed the message home the very next day, taking an undisputable and undisputed stage win, the first of an impressive set of five wins which shows just how far ahead of the competition Al-Attiyah was in the 37th Dakar. The newly crowned two-time champion of the most prestigious rally on Earth took the overall lead at the end of stage 2 and kept it until the end. He never even hesitated, racking up one win after another instead of simply defending his lead even when the slower-but-steady Giniel de Villiers piled the pressure on him. The Toyota driver, second in Buenos Aires, was the only man who challenged the no. 301 Mini until the end (finally losing by 35 minutes). Only a stage victory could have made the South African 2009 winner of the Dakar's performance even better.
Nani Roma, on the other hand, did take stage 9. However, the 2014 champion's dreams of overall glory were already shattered, as his supposedly ultra-reliable Mini suffered a mechanical a few kilometres into the opening special. The Spaniard ended up rolling out of the rally with four days to go, just like Carlos Sainz during stage 5. With the former WRC champion gone, Stéphane Peterhansel was left to fly the Peugeot colours alone in the rally comeback of the brand with the lion. The Frenchman's bid for glory failed and he had to settle for bringing his 2008 DKR to Buenos Aires, just like Cyril Despres in his baptism of fire on four wheels. Orlando Terranova was also disappointed in the 2015 edition, but even though he was knocked out of contention in stage 4, he set an infernal pace throughout the rally. The Argentinean grabbed four stages and would have probably been a strong contender for the overall win with some more luck. Lady Luck was just as mean to Yazeed Al-Rajhi, who produced an awesome performance until stage 11, which he never even managed to start due to a mechanical problem a few kilometres before entering the special. The Saudi winner of stage 8, who was sitting third overall before withdrawing from the rally, will be worth keeping an eye on in 2016. Al-Rajhi's pain was Krzysztof Hołowczyc's gain, as the Pole celebrated his tenth participation with a much awaited podium place, 1 h 32′ behind the unassailable Al-Attiyah.
In the quad category, Rafał Sonik finally tasted glory in his sixth Dakar start, following four top 5 finishes. The Pole hit the ground running, but he spent a big chunk of the rally battling Ignacio Casale, who was determined to make it two in a row after his brilliant victory in 2014 —Chile's first at the Dakar. Casale won the first two stages and put his cards on the table, locked in a fierce battle with Sonik until a mechanical problem in stage 10 sent him home. The same special also eliminated Sergio Lafuente, opening a gap of almost three hours between the leader and second-placed Jeremías González Ferioli, who grabbed his first special at the young age of 19! Christophe Declerck's two amazing stage wins thrust him into the limelight as the only French stage winner at the 2015 Dakar.
Finally, Kamaz's grip on the truck race remained as strong as ever. The Russians were light-years ahead of the competition, pulling off a jaw-dropping 1-2-3-4 in the general classification! Hans Stacey's win at the wheel of his Iveco in the first stage may have seemed a bad omen for the Russians, but despite racking up four stage wins, the Dutchman was left in the dust as Ayrat Mardeev and Eduard Nikolaev duelled for the overall. Nikolaev won six stages and halfway through the race seemed on track to repeat his 2013 victory, but a calamitous stage 7 forced him to chase after the super-consistent Mardeev. In the end, Nikolaev simply ran out of road as he lost to his fellow countryman by 13 minutes in Buenos Aires. Ilgizar Mardeev's son made amends for his second place behind Nikolaev two years ago, while 2014 champion Andrey Karginov took the bottom step of the podium.

Quotes

stage 13 : 301 - NASSER AL-ATTIYAH: "Fantastic!"
"I'm delighted I've won the Dakar! I remember that the finish was also in Baradero in 2011, so it's a really special moment for me. It's fantastic because we've dominated the race from the beginning and were able to... [more]


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