AND NOW... ON TO NEW YEAR'S EVE!
The technical and administrative scrutineering will be completed by the end of the afternoon for the drivers, riders and teams in the Dakar. Before hitting the trail, the contenders now have some time to enjoy their New Year's Eve in Buenos Aires before mingling with the crowds on the occasion of the start podium ceremony that will be held tomorrow afternoon. Overall 362 vehicles , 151 bikes, 25 quads, 134 cars and 52 trucks will start the rally.
The last scrutineering session is always special as it sees the arrival of the top contenders who will be racing for victory. The prospect of imminent competition always pushes journalists and spectators to assess the technical and physical skills of those registered to the rally raid, to foresee possible duels, to anticipate upon the potential victories of this one or that one, etc... In such an atmosphere of wild expectation, the stars of the trail play it tough and flex their muscles but not without keeping a good dose of humbleness in front of the task ahead. In the bike category, the change in rules did not prevent most observers from keeping a close eye on the fight at the top that might go on between Cyril Despres and Marc Coma, who both won two of the last four editions of the Dakar. "Indeed, we have been fighting that fight for a long time, says Despres, whilst providing some interesting statistics about their duel at the top. For the time being, I have had 16 rally raid victories in my career and Marc just added a 17th to his track record with the Rally of Morocco. It's true; we remain very close over time." This being said, this year, 450cc riders are in a more favorable situation with the restraint limiting the performances of the 690cc bikes. Today, it was also the turn of David Casteu, riding for French bike manufacturer Sherco, and Francisco "Chaleco" Lopez, hired by Italian team Aprilia, to be open about their intentions. They will certainly be part of the equation that will define the final standings...
In the car category, the struggle for victory promises to be tough as was demonstrated by the five Volkswagen squads that were the objects of all attention at scrutineering this morning. In the German team only, competition promises to be harsh between Carlos Sainz and Nasser Al Attiyah. However, title holder Giniel De Villiers, who intends to play the consistency card, sees a whole other threat looming over his mind: "I think that the BMW X3 will be much more dangerous for us this year than last year and that Stephane Peterhansel is in a much better place to pretend to victory this time around. Our biggest fight will be against them." On the side of the BMW X-Raid Team, the arrival of the biggest title holder in their midst provides new credibility to the team's declared ambitions. "Peter" even says that the work done on the car with his team mate Nani Roma allows him to dare think -- why not -- about a 10th victory on the Dakar: "Of course 10 is a very attractive number and it's been evading me for several years now. But, if I were to make it this time, it would also be the reward of a fantastic team challenge and of all the hard work that allowed us to come back strong." But in order to succeed, Peterhansel will have to beat the Race Touareg and contain US driver Robby Gordon at the same time.
For the favorites and for the amateurs likewise, the rules of a nice pre-start New Year's Eve dinner will be to keep it sober and light because for them 2010 will start with a podium ceremony at the foot of the famous Buenos Aires obelisk, but after that... they will have to face 9,000 kilometers of roads, trails and sand dunes that will take them on a fabulous rally raid across Argentina and Chile.