Big guns in the Palau! Barcelona, December the 29th 2004 - As expected, the Catalan crowd gathered to the Palau Sant Jordi for day 2 of scrutineering. After the first 71 competitors (a majority of Spaniards) went through the technical and ...
Big guns in the Palau!
Barcelona, December the 29th 2004 - As expected, the Catalan crowd gathered to the Palau Sant Jordi for day 2 of scrutineering. After the first 71 competitors (a majority of Spaniards) went through the technical and administrative checks yesterday, it was time for the big guns to show up in the main hall. A total of around 300 vehicles were set for a long day of scrutineering including some very ambitious race contenders.
Concerning the bike race, the first to appear was Frenchman David Fretigne and his and his 450cc two-wheel drive Yamaha. Seventh last year for his first Dakar, the enduro World champion has major ambitions for his second rally on a bettered machine and with the key experience of a first Dakar behind him. "The goal, even if a little high is to make it between the 3rd and 5th position overall." Not too worried about the size of his bike (450cc) compared to the bigger KTMs, Fretigne, a winner of three stages last year will count on his main asset: "I'm going to attack, that's how I ride and that will make the difference."
A few minutes later, to the delight of the Spanish crowd, the KTM Repsol riders led by Isidre Esteve pushed their bikes into the main hall. The winner of the Er Rachidia - Ouarzazate stage last year and overall leader during three days will carry all the hopes of Spain on his shoulders after Nani Roma decided to move to four wheels. "In the previous years I worked for the team and helped Nani win. Now my time has come. I have the experience after seven rallies. I have what it takes to win". The Spaniard admits that the race is extremely open and knows he has many rivals including Fabrizio Meoni ("the only one to have already won the race") and the younger generation but insists: "the most dangerous rival is the race itself".
In the car competition, a flock of red jackets showed up in the afternoon. The Nissan boys had made it to the Palau with legendary Ari Vatanen leading the bunch, like a father with his children. The four-time Dakar winner looked delighted before the start of the race and carried a smile on his face during the entire administrative scrutineering. "There were two very charming girls checking our documents", mentioned the Finn joking about his two daughters working for the organisation. When it comes to the race, Vatanen feels very optimistic after what he considers as his "worst rally" last year. "It's going seriously well. Everything is possible on this rally from victory to hitting a tree." The 52 year-old driver still has in mind his withdrawal from last year's edition. Just behind the master himself was teammate and title contender Colin McRae who took the time to go through every necessary document check including a stop at the GPS crash course. The third Nissan driver, South Africa's Giniel De Villiers, looked eager to take off for a rally that he'll be driving alongside of new co-driver Jean-Marie Lurquin and in a brand new Nissan pickup. "The car looks good... the difference is in the inside although we got rid of the giant wing we had before. Hopefully the car will - at last - be more reliable."
Looking even more optimistic, Jean-Louis Schlesser was delighted to present his new Schlesser-Ford buggy. Counting on a V8 powered engine, the two-time Dakar winner wants to prove that his place is right at the top of the podium and not on the third step like in the previous edition behind two Mitsubishis. "I'm here to win the race. I know it's risky with such a car but it's my only option. Believe me, it'll be spectacular..."
The race has not yet started and already some big names have high expectations. Tomorrow, the Mitsubishi team led by 2004 race winner Stephane Peterhansel and the KTM-Gauloises riders with Cyril Despres and Fabrizio Meoni will want to prove that they are still well present. One shouldn't forget Volkswagen however. The German brand will release their monster: the 'Race Touareg'...with three former race winners (Kleinschmidt, Saby and Kankkunen).