Dakar: Petersen Motorsports preview

Expereince Critical Difference for Second Year Team After a year of waiting and preparation the time has finally come for Petersen Motorsports to make its second start in the Euromilhoes Dakar. For Driver/Owner Michael Petersen (Las Vegas,...

Expereince Critical Difference for Second Year Team

After a year of waiting and preparation the time has finally come for Petersen Motorsports to make its second start in the Euromilhoes Dakar. For Driver/Owner Michael Petersen (Las Vegas, Nev., USA) it has been 11 months of anxious anticipation since closing the Euromilhoes Dakar 2007 23rd overall in his rookie run. Now, with the strength of one rally worth of experience he and the two-time 24 Hours of Le Mans GT class winning team are eager to move the No. 331 Petersen Motorsports/MMPIE/PAWS/Petersen Holdings/BF Goodrich Chevrolet closer to the front of the rally. While one start in the world's most challenging motorsports event leaves much to be learned it does give the program critical knowledge entering the 30th Anniversary of the event formerly known as the Paris- Dakar.

The 5,762 mile/9,273 km journey from Lisbon, Portugal to Dakar, Senegal is considered the most demanding route designed by Amaury Sport Organisation (A.S.O.), official sanctioning body of the rally raid, in recent years. Two 'marathon' stages- where the cars cannot be worked on by anyone but the driver and co-driver- will heighten the difficulties of this year's event. Stage Four from Er Rachidia to Ouarzazat (363 miles/584 km total distance) and the 515 mile/829 km Seventh Stage from Smara to Atar will be the marathon stages within the marathon event. Long stages through the dunes of Mauritania also highlight this year's challenge.

2007 Petersen Motorsports Dakar team returns in 2008 Each day is made up of three separate stages within the stage. The opening "Connection" or transit stage brings the competitors to the "Special" stage zone. It is within the "Special" that Petersen will be timed over the course setting the standings for each stage and the rally as a whole. A total of 3,564 miles/5,736 km will make up the "Specials". Petersen Motorsports will need to cover a total of 1,081 miles/1,739 km, the shortest being just 9.3 miles/15 km, the longest 203 miles/326 km to reach the "Specials". Once scored, there will still be a total of 1,123 miles/1,807 km- the shortest being just 1.2 miles/2 km while the longest is a grueling 265 miles/426 km- to cover on the way to the nightly campground/bivouac as part of the second "Connection". This will be done 15 times between January 5 and 20th. The event's only rest day is scheduled for January 13th in Nouakchott following the eighth stage of the rally.

Saturday, January 5th marks the first of 15 stages that will culminate on January 20th in Dakar. Stage One will take the record number of entries 302 miles/486 km from Lisbon to Portimao. The stage will be heavily watched by hundreds of thousands of spectators across southern Portugal. However, Petersen and co- driver Matthew Stevenson (Ipswich, England), a 12- time Dakar starter, will have little time to enjoy the massive fan turnout as this first stage is no simple overland trip. Traveling nearly due south on a route never before used by rally organizers, Petersen and Stevenson will see their first signs of sand and rocky terrain as well as the paved thoroughfares of Lisbon.

Last year the two-time American Le Mans Series GT2 Driver Championship-winning program came to the world's most difficult motorsports event with the intent to learn and learn they did. Petersen and Stevenson raced a rented T1.3 class buggy to 23rd overall, eighth in class and finished as the third-highest ranking American driven vehicle.

For 2008, Petersen Motorsports has recruited Darren Skilton's (Lake Wood, Calif., USA) Wide Open Dakar to assemble a T1.3 class (two wheel-drive, two- passenger, enclosed body) buggy with a chassis designed by off-road legend Bill Savage using the direction of Petersen and Dakar Program Manager Dale White (Bozeman, MT, USA). Bringing together the best of both the world's of US-type desert racing (Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing has three Baja 500 and Baja 1000 victories as well as over 50 other off-road titles) and the traditional Dakar buggy, the vehicle should posses a unique balance on the dunes as well as the rocks that make up much of the course. The SPD chassis (the designation for first letter of the last name of the company's founders: Bill Savage, David Perrault and Ivan Davis) is clothed in an original body by Mike McQueen of McQueen Prototypes. The entire piece was built in Skilton's Southern California facility with shop assistance of Nate Engel, Matt Cruson and Eric Schmid. Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing's top technicians Dennis Chizma, Crew Chief (Las Vegas, Nev.) and Lead Technician Nico Castellaccio (Tracy, Calif., USA) further assisted in the build in California and will oversee the maintenance of the buggy in the grinding rally at the nightly bivouacs.

White, who has two Baja victories as a driver including a solo driving performance to the overall, four-wheel drive victory in 1995 and a second title in '98 in Class 8, will pilot the massive support vehicle with Chizma, Castellaccio riding along. This vehicle will oversee any immediate and overnight repairs that the No. 331 may require along the course of the rally. Todd Clement, Sebastian Basset and Skilton will travel in a third Petersen Motorsports vehicle, officially entered by Wide Open Dakar, parallel to the rally meeting-up with the others at the nightly bivouacs.

Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing has won nearly all the world's major motorsports endurance classics including the 24 Hours of Le Mans ('03 & '04), the Baja 500 and Baja 1000 overall ('95-'97), the 24 Hours At Daytona ('01), the 12 Hours of Sebring ('05) and the Petit Le Mans ('05 & '06). They have won over 50 off-road events and the American Le Mans Series GT2 Class Driver and IMSA Cup Championships ('05 and '06) and Team Championship ('05) on the shoulders of 10 American Le Mans Series class victories. As a rookie in the 2007 Dakar, Petersen earned an impressive finish of 23rd overall, fifth in the two-wheel drive class. He drove to a high stage finish of eighth-place in the final leg of the rally on the beaches of Lac Rose in Dakar, Senegal.

Quotes

Michael Petersen, Owner/Driver:

(About what he learned in his rookie year): "Every year Dakar is different so what you learned last year doesn't necessarily translate into this year. Still, last year was a big plus to come over and learn. It gives you more confidence that you know how the rally itself is operated. The biggest lesson I learned is that some days you take a risk and some days you don't. It is the Dakar and it can change instantly. You can have one decision that impacts your whole race. The more you stay out of trouble the better that you do. Just use your head and push when you can but, for the most part, try to run 70-80% and more than likely you'll be OK."

(About the Euromilhoes 2008): "This year is supposed to be a lot different than the '07 route; more challenging. I am excited about it. I think the new car is more than capable. It will be a good car for this year's race because there is a lot of sand and we designed this buggy to be good in the sand. I am excited to get it started. The lead-up is fine and there has been a lot to do but I am excited about getting it started. January 5th is where my fun begins. My goal is to make it to the finish and try and reward all the hard work of the guys."

Nico Castellaccio, Lead Technician: "I think the car is better than last year. I'm a little worried about the bodywork. If the bodywork ends up being a problem like last year, we will have some long nights. I definitely think this year's results will be a lot better than last year. The car is way faster than last year's. The biggest challenge will be making sure that everything is perfect before Mike and Matt leave the bivouac. I always worry that something will go wrong on the transit stage, before the special stage. Then we would have to go and fix it in a major hurry. We learned a lot last year that will help us this year. But, I think the biggest thing is where we need to set up camp. We need to make sure that we're up wind as far as possible so we don't get dusted out."

Versus Network will again provide daily highlight shows of the action from Dakar in North America. The 30 minute features begin on January 6th at 3:30 PM (ET). The program will re-air again at 6:30 PM. These will recap the rally's activity from the day before. Check local listings for channel and to confirm times.

-credit: petersenmotorsports.com

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Series DAKAR