BUENOS AIRES - South Africa’s Alfie Cox and Jurgen Schröder from Germany were amongst the 217 bikers, 25 quad riders, 177 car crews and 81 truck contestants that gathered in Buenos Aires on Saturday, while the crowds were out in force to meet and greet their heroes of the 2009 Argentina Chile Dakar Rally.
2009 Dakar Rally website
Some 837 participants on board 500 vehicles will take starter’s orders on Sunday and get to grips with the route of the 31st Dakar, the first in South America, a day filled with final preparations, the last bit of rest and good wishes from supporters before taking on the toughest challenge on the international annual motorsport calendar.
The riders and drivers of the 500 vehicles enrolled for the Dakar started their day with a grand meeting, the traditional pre-race briefing, during which rally director Etienne Lavigne underlined certain points, with the emphasis on safety and the confidence he has in the competitors to honour and respect the two new host countries, Argentina and Chile.
"Studying the route and the areas we will race through, I think there are lots of similarities between this race and the previous races in Africa. No doubt, there will definitely be lots of dunes and then the two crossings of the Andes Mountains. On Day 7 we will climb to 3250m above sea-level and then the Cordillere at 4000m altitude.
"In general the terrain will consist mostly of sand, gravel and rocky planes. Many of the guys are nervous to take on the South American Summer; where I come from (Cato Ridge in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa) the heat and humidity is very intense and that should give me an edge on the Europeans who are in the middle of winter," commented Cox.
Cox and Schröder race for the PS Laser Racing Team in a 3,6litre six cylinder Porsche powered two-wheel drive SMG Buggy.
In the motorcycle class the two favourites for the event must definitely be KTM’s 690 Rally machines with Cyril Despres of France closely followed by his teammate Mark Coma of Spain.
In the car category South Africa’s Giniel de Villiers in a Volkswagen Touareg boasts the best result to date in his team and he must definitely stand a very good chance against his own teammate and former World Rally Champion Carlos Saintz of Spain.
Frenchman Stephane Peterhansel and his countryman Juc Alphand with multiple race wins between them in their Mitsubihi Lancers, will definitely be out to test the VW drivers to the bitter end.
However, with the difference in terrain, this year the results could change dramatically and it is not impossible that the 31st Dakar could belong to a Buggy.
Veteran competitor and multiple race winner Vladimir Chagin from Russia in a Kamaz will definitely be one of the main factors to watch for in the truck category, but he will be given a run for his money by the MAN of Netherlands Hans Stacey and the Tatra of André de Azevedo of Brazil.
The 31st Dakar Rally, promises to be the toughest ever with many new challenges facing competitors and the absolute endurance required from man and machine.
"Our main aim is to finish the race. Jurgen turns 50 this year and he wants a Dakar finisher’s trophy as present. At the same time we would also not be disappointed if we can surprise a few of our friends and colleagues with our performance," joked Cox in high spirits at the SMG Team’s preparation area.