The 2012 Dakar Rally is right around the corner, kicking off on New Year’s in Mar del Plata, Argentina. After domination by Volkswagen for the last year years, the race started to get… well, a little boring. At least as “boring” as a 5000 mile race across miles of sand dunes and 15,000 foot Andean passes can be. With VW pulling out of the race for 2012, it is anyone’s game. RDC will be there to bring you the behind-the-scenes dirt that you have come to expect and won’t find anywhere else, but in the meantime here is a rundown of what to expect and who to root for when the green flag drops.
The multi-million dollar budget teams from not only Volkswagen but Mitsubishi, Citroën, and Renault are a thing of the past. The closest thing left is the multi-car effort of the X-Raid team, campaigning five Mini Cooper All4s and three BWM X3s. More than just safety in numbers, the X-Raid team has corporate backing from Monster Energy and several past Dakar winners on their team.
Stéphane Peterhansel has won the Dakar Rally nine times, six times on Yamaha motorcycles and three times in Mitsubishi Pajero SUVs. Will this year make it an even ten Dakar victories for “Peter”? His teammates include Spaniard Nani Roma, who has won the rally on a bike but never overalled in a car, and 2011 Silk Way Rally champ Krzysztof Holowczyc of Poland. Sometimes too much talent can cause a team to implode, as they work against each other intent on victory instead of helping their teammates. Will that be the case for the X-Raid team or will they sweep the podium like Volkswagen has done in the past?
It is hard to categorize defending champion Nasser Al-Attiyah as a “wildcard”, but the moniker is fitting in this case. Instead of a diesel-powered 4WD Volkswagen Touareg and endless corporate support, Al-Attiyah will be piloting a 2WD Hummer build by Robby Gordon Motorsports. This year’s route is heavy on dunes, with less WRC-style gravel roads than in the past, so the long travel H3 could be the appropriate vehicle for the terrain.
Robby Gordon certainly requires no introduction on RDC. Despite DNF’ing last year at the Dakar Rally, Robby has demonstrated that he has what it takes to win stages. If he can keep his car together Robby will do well, but the central tire inflation system has been his Achilles heel in past years. Is the system sorted out? This is not the only question surrounding Robby. Baja motorcycle legend Johnny Cambell will be navigating for Gordon in a second seat that has resembled a revolving door in recent years. How much have the pair worked together? Al-Attiyah is the other question mark, as neither he nor Robby will be a water carrier for the other. Will the two destroy each other in their quest for the win or work together to put Robby Gordon Motorsports on top? Only time will tell…
The Freak Show:
While it is hard to imagine a truck that weighs 20,000 pounds and has leaf springs as being fast, the T4 trucks are just that. The Kamaz are the fastest of the bunch, and Vladimir Chagin is the defending champ in the truck class and the only driver with more stage wins than Stéphane Peterhansel. It would be impressive for Kamaz to win overall, but they have consistently placed in the top ten and have plenty of experience, so anything is possible.
No American has overalled the Dakar Rally, although Mark Miller and Robby Gordon have both come close. Last year Darren Skilton and Sue Mead won the Open Production 2 class, which is specifically designed to appeal to Baja racers (if you have a SCORE-approved cage it will pass scrutineering in OP2).
Skilton is returning this year with his SPD-built a-arm car (the same shop responsible for BJ Baldwin’s Trophy Truck). While he is a regular at the Dakar Rally, Skilton’s car has been sitting until the right opportunity presented itself. Now that VW is out, the field is wide open and Skilton feels he has a legitimate shot at the victory.
We will be highlighting more American teams in the near future, including Baja veteran Mark McMillin and Gumball racer Robb Rill. There will be an American presence on bikes as well. We will be keeping track of rally veteran Jonah Street and updating you on his efforts, as well as those of Baja racing stud Quinn Cody, Ned Suesse, James Embro, and Bill Conger. Stay tuned for daily updates from South America!