THE TITLE HOLDERS ARE IN THE HOUSE
Before entering the core of the race, competitors kept arriving all day at the Cultural Center in Belem for the second round of technical scrutineering and adminstrative checks. Whether they could claim final victory, an honoraire position, a ranking in one of the sub-categories or just a glorious arrival on the banks of Lake Rose, all pilots summoned to come to the scrutineering relived or discovered the rally's atmosphere and its last preparation. The struggle for the title which promises to be increasingly intense in the car category did not seem to undermine the serene mood of the Mitsubishi armada that took its first parade of the year in the morning. Despite the big threat of Volkswagen, the four teams enrolled for the Japanese manufacturer i.e. Peterhansel-Cottret, Alphand-Picard, Masuoka-Maimon and Roma-Cruz plaid - in their usual cool - the game of picture taking, autograph signing and declarations of intent. The Team Manager, Dominique Serieys, summarized the state of mind of the group, that - rightly - cultivates a confidence built over the years: "We have no doubt but no complacency either."
Their toughest rivals being expected during the day on Friday, the Mitsu boys mainly met, on the scrutineering site, a few brave contenders that should not bother them too much at the top. Belgium's Stephane Henrard, a regular of the Top 10, will nevertheless try to "get into the Top 5" behind the wheels of his Volkswagen buggy. Etienne Smulevici, who is participating in the Dakar for the 26th time will try to reach another record and finish the raid for the 20th time in his life. On the attraction side, it is the pilots of the one-seater buggies designed by Philippe Gache who stole the show: the challenge is particularly high for Yvan Muller, who is racing his second Dakar in this strange vehicle after a conclusive first go with the very comforting Rene Metge in 2007. But the challenge is probably even bigger for local star and former Formula One pilot Tiago Monteiro, who will discover sand, rally and solitary navigation at the same time.
As opposed to Peterhansel in the car category, the title holder in the bike category Cyril Despres met, in the alleys of the cultural center, most of those pilots who might actually beat him this year. His announced duel with Marc Coma, who was doing his scrutineering round at the same time, did not seem to scare the Frenchman who is seeking a third victory: "Part of it is happening before the Dakar. Things are all set on this side for me and I am starting on a very very good basis. As for the rest, the race is very long." Apart from Coma, Despres also knows he will have to keep an eye on David Casteu, second in 2007 and on Chile's Francisco Lopez, who moved to a 660 KTM this year. In the truck category, the Dutchmen of the De Rooy clan - father and son - unveiled their new colors. It is now in orange that son Gerard and father Jan will try to get to the top. To this end, they will have to pass the top pilots of the Kamaz squad and particularly Vladimir Chagin, who intends to polish his driving to avoid tipping over but does not deny he wants to attack: "it will go very fast. As of the first few hundred meters!"
Finally the organizers of the Dakar took stock of the declaration of the French government advising French citizens not to go to Mauritania on the occasion of the rally. In order to be able to assess the situation, they are getting in touch with the French and Mauritanian authorities to seek clarification on what could actually have prompted this message of warning despite the numerous reassuring words of the Mauritanian government.