MONSTER ENERGY X-RAID TEAM CARS SAFELY THROUGH PRE-DAKAR CHECKS IN BUENOS AIRES
* Peterhansel and Cottret relish the challenge of creating history
* Chicherit confirms priority is to bring new Mini All4 Racing to finish
* Holowczyz hopes to acclimatise to BMW X3CC before taking risks
BUENOS AIRES (Argentina): The Monster Energy X-raid rally team completed administration and scrutineering checks for the 33rd Personal Dakar Argentina-Chile at La Rural conference centre in Buenos Aires on New Year's Eve.
Six BMW X3CCs and the brand new Mini All4 Racing will represent Sven Quandt's team on 13 timed special stages and 5,020km of competitive action in a route of 9,618km over the next 14 days across northern Argentina and Chile.
Quandt has assembled a team of over 80 personnel - the largest line-up in X-raid's eight-year history - to tackle the world's most difficult and infamous off-road rally.
"It is absolutely great to have so many cars and such a big team here," enthused X-raid team director Quandt. "We under-estimated the way that the Mini has captured the imagination of the world's media and the public. It has been astonishing. The goal now is to make sure that the Mini finishes between positions five and 10 at least.
"Looking at our team, everyone knows that Stephane (Peterhansel) is our number one driver. He has strong support throughout the team and we have made no secret of the fact that Ricardo (Leal Dos Santos) will act as support for Stephane and Stephan Schott will carry some spare parts in his car. We also have the fast Kamaz truck, which could be a big help as well. Otherwise, our guys can drive as fast as they can provided that they bring the cars to the finish line."
Peterhansel will be bidding to win his fourth Dakar title in a car and his 10th in total alongside regular co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret. He is seeded at two behind defending champion, Carlos Sainz, and is quietly confident that the BMW X3CC can be among the front-runners from the start.
"All year we have tested the car, trained hard and reached a good level," said Peterhansel. "Last year the car was very good. This year I feel the car is even stronger and we should be able to make a nice fight with Volkswagen.
"On the first stage last year I had a problem with the brakes and lost a lot of time. Without that problem this year I think that we can push and make a good start. It was easier for me to plan a strategy when the rally was in Africa. Mauritania was good for me. Here it is a faster event and the cars are very close, but I will start second on the road between Carlos (Sainz) and Nasser (Al-Attiyah) and that is a perfect place to be for the first stage."
Guerlain Chicherit managed to carry out a short pre-event test in the Mini All4 Racing on Wednesday and has openly admitted that his priority is to bring the Monster Energy-backed car to the finish in Buenos Aires on January 16th. The Mini has been developed in record time and the Frenchman will be hoping to improve on the fifth position he managed with a BMW X3CC last year.
"I feel really good," said Chicherit. "We are well prepared, the team has good experience and I have worked all year to be ready for this. We didn't start this Mini from zero. It is an evolution of the X3 and we have learned a lot from that development. My objective with the Mini is not to fight with the leaders. My goal is to be at the end of the rally. I will need to find a compromise in my pace to do that."
Poland's Krzysztof Holowczyc has joined the X-raid team on the Dakar Rally for the first time after running as one of the top privateers for the last few seasons.
"For me it will be a case of finding the limit of the car as soon as possible," said Holowczyc. "I am used to driving a car by steering on the throttle, whereas Stephane (Peterhansel) uses the leftfoot braking technique.
"This may be faster, but I need to get my confidence levels up before I feel like pushing hard. There is no questioning the BMW's torque and power, but I need to gain my confidence with the way the back end handles in comparison with my old car before I attack."
Leonid Novitskiy starts the 2011 Dakar Rally as the defending FIA World Cup champion and codriver Andreas Schulz admits that Novitskiy could surprise the established front-runners as the Dakar progresses over the coming days.
"I think Leonid and I can do a good race," said Schulz. "Since his accident in Tunisia, when we came together for the first time, we started slowly and have been getting faster all the time. Now I think he is the top driver behind all the professionals and could be one to watch this year."
Argentina's Orlando Terranova, Portugal's Ricardo Leal Dos Santos and Germany's Stephan Schott complete the Monster Energy X-raid team line-up. One hundred and fifty-six cars, 183 bikes, 33 quads, 68 trucks and competitors from 51 nations were expected to finalise pre-rally formalities before the action gets underway.
Tomorrow (Saturday) will mark the traditional New Year's Day ceremonial start of the 33rd Personal Dakar Argentina-Chile on the Avenue July 9th, adjacent to the Obelisk, in downtown Buenos Aires. Massive crowds have flagged drivers and riders off the podium for the previous two years and even larger numbers are expected to line the streets out of the city on this occasion.
Following the start, competitors will head into a non-competitive 377km liaison section to Victoria, from where the first competitive special stage will start on Sunday, January 2nd.
The road section heads northwest out of Buenos Aires towards Belen de Escobar, before the leading cars reach Victoria, near Rosario, from 20.00hrs. The opening special stage of the event between Victoria and Cordoba on Sunday consists of a 482km liaison section, a 222km special and a second liaison of 84km to Argentina's second largest city.
The first liaison heads through Ca.ada de Gomez and Villa Maria en route to the start of the technical special stage at Rio Cuarto. The tracks run through a mountaineous region, adjacent to the Col de las Ovejos and on to a finish south of the city.