Four top-category crews...
The Nissan Rally Raid Team for the 2004 Dakar will be made up of four top-category crews, who will be driving Pickup vehicles in the Superproduction category. The spearhead of the official team, the Pickup has benefited from some significant evolutions since last year, which should allow it to spoil the fun of the other official teams.
Nº 205 : Ari VATANEN (FIN) - Juha REPO (FIN)
Four-times winner of the mythical Dakar event, Ari Vatanen will be behind the wheel of a Nissan Pickup for the second year in a row. Extremely motivated, as always, Ari cannot wait to get back to Africa, a continent of which he is incredibly fond. Having claimed four of the manufacturer's five stage wins in this year's Dakar, he would like to reach the record number of 50 stage wins during the 2004 event (he currently has 49 wins to his credit...).
"The Dakar is always an exceptional moment. It is much more than just another sporting event, it is an opportunity to live a real adventure. A unique adventure, first of all within the team, but also thanks to the many people you meet, because, as everyone knows, Africa is very dear to me. The Pickup has evolved well, and I am confident, but the route will be very difficult this year, and we will all have to be prepared for some "surprises". There will be quite a lot of parameters to control in order to be in the lead. I am determined to do better than 7th ... my motivation and my will to win are still intact. "
As for his compatriot, Juha Repo, he will have to contend with all the potential navigational traps. Juha, who took part in the UAE Desert Challenge alongside Ari, is hardly a novice when it comes to navigation. But his favourite area of the sport is the World Rally Championship, where he was the co-driver for Juha Kankkunen for many years. In Dubaï, he had to contend with the sand and the sand-dunes for the first time... and in a few days time, he will face the challenges of Africa. A challenge he is ready to face with plenty of professionalism and determination : "I know that it will not be easy, but I am surrounded by a team of extremely experienced people, who will support me and advise me throughout the race. It is true that starting alongside a four-times winner of the event is a bit scary..."
Nº 202 : Colin McRAE (GB) - Tina THORNER (SWE)
World Rally Champion in 1995, three-times vice-Champion, Colin McRae is a legendary figure in the world of rallying, who is now ready to face a new challenge, that of Rally Raids. After an exceptional career, he has reached a turning point, and is venturing into rally-raids. With both the category and by the Nissan Pickup appealing to him, he could create a few surprises and spoil the fun for some of the "regulars".
" I really want to make the most of this first Dakar and of the adventure it represents. I will be 100% concentrated on the job ahead, and I am determined to get to the end. The first special stages should not be too different, as the terrain is similar to that encountered on some stages of the World Rally Championship.
However, in Africa, I will be facing totally new conditions, like the sand and the dunes. I have done some driving on sand in South Africa, but I am expecting something different. The length of the legs is impressive, that of the special stages equally so. The longest leg is over 1000 km, and the longest special stage, between Tidjikja and Nema, is 736 km long. The whole route, over 11 000 km, just cannot be compared to the World Rally Championship. There is just no way to compare them. On this sort of event, the role played by the co-driver is primordial, and totally different to that which I have experienced before.
On an event like this, where the navigation demands attention all the time, Tina will play a decisive role. I am counting on her to give me the right rhythm. There are many parameters which need to be managed over the Dakar event, as well as the difficult terrain. The heat and the fatigue are essential factors. If necessary, you have to make repairs en route in conditions which can be far from ieal. If we get stuck in the sand, we will have to get out the shovels and the boards.... I'll be counting on Tina there too ! But Giniel (De Villiers) told me that during the 2003 Dakar he did not get stuck in the sand at all ... I am quite confident. Another new thing for me, and not the least of them, will be putting up my tent every evening at the bivouac... I can't wait !"
Supported by Swedish co-driver Tina Thörner, he will be able to count on her experience and talent to avoid the various navigational traps of this year's route, which promises to be rather difficult.
"I am impatient to get going with Colin; I just hope I have enough experience to be able to help him. I have taken part in three Dakar events, and in his eyes I am already a 'desert fox'... Everything is relative, because compared to many others, I am still a novice. I've known Colin for around ten years, I've seen him a lot during the World Rally Championship but I have never worked with him. Two years ago, during a dinner party, Colin said that he would like to take part in the Dakar. We talked about this adventure as something that he could do one day, in the future. And just two years later, here we are, side by side in a Nissan Pickup...For his first time, Colin has not chosen the easiest of editions. Analysing the route, there are a number of similarities with that of 1999. The same places, but often in the other direction, and I remember that the navigation was difficult. Colin is very interested in the race. Like the true professional he is, he wanted me to explain everything in great detail. He is very much aware that he has a lot to learn, but he could surprise quite a few people..."
Nº 208 : Giniel DE VILLIERS (RSA) - Francois JORDAAN (RSA)
Progressing continuously, the South African driver would dearly like to claim his first Dakar stage win. Finishing fifth in the previous edition, he proved that Nissan could count on his consistency and talent. Having won the Rally of Morocco earlier this year, he has already savoured the sweet taste of victory, and would like to repeat the experience ...
" I am well prepared both physically and mentally for this Dakar. Last year, after a week of the event, I felt extremely tired, which had a significant influence on my driving rhythm. The Dakar is not like other races, I understand that now. Throughout the season I have gained experience, and I feel that I have made progress. Now, I am quite used to crossing dunes... My victory in the Rally of Morocco helped me to gain confidence and now I can face events differently. The Pickup has made a lot of progress since the 2003 Dakar. It is more stable, more aerodynamic at high speeds and the centre of gravity is lower. It is also more "comfortable". We will have a very competitive package at our disposal. The Dakar will be difficult, but this year I will once more give all I can to get a "result" for Nissan..."
His team-mate and compatriot Francois Jordaan might be taking part in the Dakar for the first time, but he knows his driver extremely well. Francois has been navigating for Giniel in South Africa for three years.
" I've been sharing the cockpit of a Nissan Pickup with Giniel for three years now, in the South African Championship. He is a very engaging boy, whom I like a lot. We complete each other perfectly. If there are any problems, this complicity will definitely help us. We drove together in Dubai, which gave me a preview of the difficulties we are likely to face. I am well-prepared physically, but I have also worked hard on the navigation, a vital factor in this sort of event. I am very happy and flattered to have been asked to join the official Nissan team - alongside Giniel."
Nº 210 : Yves LOUBET (FRA) - Pascal MAIMON (FRA)
After only six Rally-Raid events, Yves Loubet is incredibly enthusiastic at the thought of competing in an official car. Having recently won the Rally of the Pharaohs with a Nissan Pickup, and despite his relative inexperience in his area of the sport, Yves is far from being an unknown quantity. Five French Rally Championship titles, three vice-champion titles and a former European Champion, the driver from Corsica is extremely motivated, and ready to face any challenges.
" What has happened to me is marvellous, and I would like to thank Nissan for placing their trust in me. To take part in the Dakar in these conditions is something that I could not have dreamt of, just a few months ago. The car is incredible, and has great potential. But this Dakar will be long and full of potential traps. It will be necessary to be very patient and show real endurance in order to reach the Rose Lake. With Pascal (Maimon), I am in optimal conditions as far as the navigation is concerned. His Dakar experience is invaluable, and I know that I will be able to count on his advice. He is the ideal team-mate !"
Pascal Maimon, winner of the Dakar in 2002, is very motivated, just like his driver.
" I am very happy to be teamed up with Yves this year. He is very fast and very determined. It is reassuring to set off with a driver who trusts you entirely. I know that he is counting on me to give him the right rhythm for the race. The pace and the endurance are the key factors to keep in a good position in the classification. But it is also important to look after the car, especially in the long stages, where it will be difficult for the service to follow us. This year, the rally will not be a picnic. It might be a bit of a cliché, but it's a 'true' Dakar. There are plenty of potential traps, and we will all have to be twice as careful.