4 Jan 2014

2014 Dakar Rally Preview

Graham King previews the 2014 Dakar Rally

The Dakar Rally gets under way for the 34th time this weekend. The 2014 route takes the 434 competitors nearly 5,000km through Argentina, Bolivia and Chile over two weeks. Honours for cars, bikes, quads and trucks are all up for grabs.

First run through Saharan Africa in 1979, the rally was forced to abandon its traditional home after the 2008 edition was cancelled due to threats of a terrorist attack against the rally. The Dakar moved to South America in 2009 and has gone from strength to strength.

So, who is in contention for victory this year?


It would be brave to bet against Stephane Peterhansel taking his third straight win in the Monster X-Raid Mini. With 11 Dakar victories to his credit (five in cars, six on bikes), the Frenchman knows exactly how to win the event. Something he demonstrated last year, biding his time while his rivals fell by the way-side, then pushing on to the finish.

But Peterhansel faces a lot of competition, not least from within his own team. 2011 winner and WRC regular Nasser al-Attiyah looks likely to be the main threat, in his debut in a Qatar-sponsored Mini. Fellow X-Raid drivers Nani Roma, Orlando Terranova and Krzysztof Holowczyc have the speed, but perhaps not the consistency, to win.

Elsewhere, 2010 victor and two-time WRC champion Carlos Sainz debuts a brand new, two-wheel-drive buggy. The Red Bull SMG team is bidding to become the first 2WD winner since 2000. American Robby Gordon will be hoping that his Hummer's enormous speed will finally be backed up with the reliability to get him to the podium for the first time since 2009. That year's winner Giniel de Villiers has been around to pick up the pieces for the last two years, finishing on the podium in his Imperial Toyota Hilux and should be there-or-thereabouts again this year. It's also worth keeping an eye on Ford Racing's new Ranger, with lead driver Lucio Alvarez.

British interest centres on the Race2Recovery team, manned partly by injured Forces personnel. The team endured a torrid race in 2013. Two of the team's three cars dropped out, while a support car was involved in a crash with a taxi that left several team members injured and two locals dead. During the second week, both service trucks broke down terminally, but despite everything the team managed to get one car (which suffered continual overheating) across the finish line. Navigator Corporal Philip Gillespie became the first amputee to finish the Dakar, achieving the team's goal. 2014's two car effort is led again by Captain Tony Harris, navigated by Quin Evans. Ben Gott returns to the team, with Cpl. Gillespie on the maps.


The bike section is likely to be dominated by Marc Coma and Cyril Despres. Frenchman Despres took his fifth win last year, while Spaniard Coma had to sit the event out with a shoulder injury. Coma looks like the favourite on paper, as he bids for his fourth win and KTM's 13th in a row. Despres is looking for a record-equalling sixth win, but has switched from his usual KTM to an unproven Yamaha.

Coma's works Red Bull KTM teammates Francisco Lopez, Ruben Faria and Jordi Viladoms will be in with a shout at the podium. Honda men Joan Barreda Bort and Helder Rodrigues, Despres' factory Yamaha partner Olivier Pain and KTM privateer David Casteu shouldn’t be discounted either.


Russia's factory Red Bull Kamaz team locked out the truck category's podium in 2013, led by Eduard Nikolaev. He and teammates Ayrat Mardeev and Andrey Karginov all return this year, but their mounts have brand-new engines. Will they have the reliability to claim Kamaz's 12th Dakar victory?

2012 winner Gerard de Rooy (he of the bright orange car transporters) led much of the 2013 rally before the turbo blew on his Petronas Iveco. With reliability, he could again be a major thorn in the Russians' side. As might his teammate, 2007 victor Hans Stacey. The Tatra-mounted pair of Ales Loprais and Martin Kolomy, and MAN man Pieter Versluis are also likely to be in the mix.

Argentinian hero Marcos Patronelli won the quad category by nearly two hours last year. Barring disaster, you can pretty much guarantee a similar performance this year. Ignacio Casale, Rafal Sonik, Sebastian Palma and Sebastien Husseini will fight amongst themselves for the remaining podium positions. Chileans Casale and Palma will be particularly keen to finish well in front of a probably deeply partisan home crowd.

The Dakar Rally starts on Sunday. I'll keep you updated throughout the event.

Graham King

Image source: Dakar.com