Saturday, January 2, 2016

2016 Dakar Rally Preview

Sunday marks the start of the 37th Dakar Rally. For the eighth consecutive year, the race will take place in South America and for the second consecutive year the race will start in Buenos Aires. Eleven of the thirteen stages will start in Argentina with two starting in Bolivia. A rest day is scheduled for January 10th in Salta, Argentina. This year's Dakar Rally features star-studded Peugeot line-up and the debuts for two of the best rally drivers of this 21st century and a Le Mans winner.

Mini has won the last four Dakars in the car class and Qatari Nasser Al-Attiyah took his second Dakar victory last year. The 2014 car class winner Nani Roma returns to drive for Mini. Last year, Roma won a stage but failed to finish. Argentine Orlando Terranova is another Mini driver and he won four stages last year but finished 18th overall. A South American driver has never won the Dakar Rally in the car class. Mikko Hirvonen makes his Dakar debut driving for Mini. Other Mini drivers to watch for are Erik Van Loon, Boris Garafulic and Adam Malysz.

Peugeot's line-up is headlined by 11-time Dakar winner (five in cars) Stéphane Peterhansel and 2010 Dakar winner Carlos Sainz. Sébastien Loeb makes his Dakar debut for the French manufacture. The nine-time World Rally Championship Drivers' champion could become the fourth driver to win both the WRC title and a Dakar Rally joining Ari Vatanen, Juha Kankkunen and Sainz. Porsche factory driver Romain Dumas will also make his Dakar debut with Peugeot. Five-time Dakar bike-class winner Cyril Despres returns with Peugeot. He finished 34th last year in his car-class debut. Peugeot's last victory was in 1990 with Vatanen.

South Africa Giniel de Villiers leads the Toyota charge. The 2009 Dakar winner finished second last year to Al-Attiyah and has finished on the podium in five of the seven editions to take place on the South American continent. Russian Vladimir Vasilyev won a stage last year and finished fifth driving for Toyota and he returns this year. Bernhard ten Brinke returns with Toyota. The Dutchman finished seventh last year. Saudi driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi returns with Toyota for his sophomore Dakar Rally. He won a stage last year but failed to finish. Czech driver and full-time WRC competitor Martin Prokop will make his Dakar debut driving for Toyota.

Robby Gordon returns with his Gordini. An American has never won the Dakar Rally. Gordon won a stage last year, his eighth career stage victory, but finished 15th. His best finish was a third in 2009. Christian Lavieille and Emiliano Spataro will be driving Renaults. Carlos Sousa and Guilherme Spinelli lead the Mitsubishi line-up. Guarlain Chicherit will drive a Buggy.

Marc Coma will not return to defend his Dakar victory in the bike class. The Spaniard won his fifth Dakar last year and had won the previous two editions. KTM has won every Dakar Rally since 2001. Leading the KTM charge will be the Australian Toby Price. Price finished third last year and won a stage on debut. Štefan Svitko finished fifth last year and the Slovakian returns with KTM. Besides Price and Svitko, KTM has hired four other top ten finishers from last year's race including David Casteu, Olivier Pain, Ivan Jakeš and Laia Sanz. Austrian Matthias Walkner also returns to ride for his native manufacture and Jordi Viladoms returns with KTM.

Honda's Paulo Gonçalves leads the charge to end KTM's reign. The Portuguese rider finished second last year and won a stage. Joan Barreda won three stages last year and led until a disastrous stage eight handed Coma the class lead. Barreda has won 13 stages in the last four Dakars. American Ricky Brabec makes his Dakar debut riding for Honda. The last Dakar victory for Honda came in 1989 when France's Gilles Lalay was victorious.

Husqvarna will be led by last year's fourth place finisher Pablo Quintanella and Ruben Faria. The Swedish manufacture has never won a Dakar Rally.

Yamaha has not won since 1998 and Portuguese rider Hélder Rodrigues and Dutchman Frans Verhoeven.

Besides Brabec, there are four other Americans competing in the bike class. Scott Bright and Ian Blythe will be competing on KTMs. Alexander Smith and Carroll Gittere will ride Husqvarnas. All four are making Dakar debuts.

In the quad class, Polish rider Rafeł Sonik will not return to defend his title, leaving Chilean Ignacio Casale as the top Yamaha rider. Yamaha has won in the quad class in all seven Dakars that has featured the class. Casale looks to join Marcos and Alejandro Pastronelli as winner of multiple Dakars in the quad class. Both Pastronellis are looking for their third Dakar victory this year. Argentine Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli looks for his first Dakar victory as does Paraguayan Nelson Sanabria. Both will ride Yamahas.

Looking to dethrone Yamaha of their reign in the quad class are Honda riders Mohammed Abu-Issu of Qatar and Walter Nosiglia of Bolivia. Other Honda riders to watch for are Argentine Lucas Bonetto and Chilean Sebastian Palma.

Can-Am is the other manufacture competing in the quad class. Italian Franco Picco is a Can-Am rider to watch for. He finished second in the bike class in 1988 and 1989.

In the truck class, Russian Ayrat Mardeev is the defending winner and he looks to become the first driver to win consecutive years in the truck class since Vladimir Chagin in 2010-11. Kamaz looks for their fourth consecutive Dakar victory. Eduard Nikolaev and Andrey Karginov each look for their second Dakar victories. Dmitry Sotnikov looks for his first Dakar victory and finished in the top five the last two years.

Iveco drivers Gérard de Rooy and Aleš Loprais look to end Kamaz's streak. The Dutch manufacture won the 2012 edition with de Rooy. Loprais is the nephew of six-time Dakar winner Karel Loprais. Winner of the 2007 Dakar Rally, Han Stacey will drive a MAN. Martin Kolomy is the lead Tatra driver. Belorussian Siarhei Viazovich leads the MAZ team. Jan Lammers will driver a Ginaf.

Stage one will go from Buenos Aires to Villa Carlos Paz.