Let the show begin Before officially taking off on January the 1st at 17h00 for a prologue special in the Parc Chanot of Marseille and heading to Spain and the North Africa deserts, the Telefonica Dakar kicked off with the technical and ...
Let the show begin
Before officially taking off on January the 1st at 17h00 for a prologue special in the Parc Chanot of Marseille and heading to Spain and the North Africa deserts, the Telefonica Dakar kicked off with the technical and administrative scrutineering. While the winners of last year (the official Mitsubishi and KTM teams) are expected on Tuesday, already quite a few favourites in the car category showed up in the south of France. As expected, a very warm and enthousiastic Marseille crowd welcomed the competitors in the special atmosphere of this 25th edition, but the serious business starts on Wednesday
After the city of Arras in the North of France for the start of the 2002 event, Marseille hosts the 342 competitors and the 142 assistance vehicles of this 25th edition. Time for the riders, drivers and followers to finalise the last few details before the beginning of the two and a half week race: mechanical measures, visas, gear, etc.
On this first scrutineering day, just a few bikes (around 50) went through the normal technical measures. Frenchman Francois Flick (KTM 22) insisted his goal was "to finish the race and why not win the Marathon amateur standing".
"It's great to be on this 25th edition with wonderful landscapes to come and massive dunes. This year, the organisers have really prepared something special. However, the most important thing is not to be eaten by mother Nature which remains our main ennemy."
After the bikes came the main favourites on four wheels starting with the impressive X5 diesel BMWs of Luc Alphand (n.221) and Gregoire de Mevius (n.205). According to the French and Belgian pilots, the goal is not yet to win the race. But seeing their vehicles and based on their apparent perfect preparation, one can have serious doubts on their real ambitions.
A few minutes later, Jean-Louis Schlesser's buggy appeared in the Parking lot to the pleasure of the numerous fans deathened by the sound of the brand new Ford engine.
For the Frenchman, one of the race favourites, "the pressure is not as important as the previous years."
"We start the rally in calm fashion after a year's work on the car."
The peak of the day was yet to come when just after lunch four time winner Ari Vatanen (n.204) appeared in his sparkeling new Nissan Pick Up. As expected a very warm Marseille chear welcomed the Finn to the technical zone. Fourty-eight hours before the start of the race, it appears that Vatanen, back on the race after a 6 year absence, is by far the most popular competitor of this 25th edition.
Also a part of the powerful Nissan team, Qatari driver Khalifa Al Mutaiwei (n.218) remained in the shadow of his prestigious team-mates (including Shinozuka, De Villiers and Delavergne).
"It's incredible for me. When I was younger I used to watch these guys on television. Now I'm in the same team!"
Marseille, welcomes the race back to the South of France for the first time since 1991 when the Dakar stopped by the Stade Velodrome. On Tuesday, there will be more passion and maybe even more fans to welcome the truck and bike favourites, Germany's Jutta Kleinschmitt (Volkswagen n.203) and last year's car winner Hiroshi Masuoka (Mitsubishi n.200).