Rally Dakar: Day one starts off on 8,300km route from Argentina to Peru
The first motorcycles have set off! The pilot with race number 1, Marc Coma, and his KTM have just kicked off the rally in Mar del Plata, Argentina, and are covering the first liaison section of the 2012 Dakar. The Spaniard and the 178 motorcycles, 30 quads, 161 cars and 74 trucks on today’s starting list are in for a “light” first stage in which they will face a 57-kilometre-long special in seaside landscapes, with a few little dunes in the middle part, before setting off on a long liaison to Santa Rosa de la Pampa. This warm-up stage will allow pilots and their vehicles to get up to speed or to face the first problems of the 2012 edition.
Dubai Reigning Arabian Motorcycle Champion Mohammad Al Balooshi will make history today when he becomes the first UAE national to take part in the motorcycle class of the famous Dakar Rally – one of the toughest endurance races in the world.
Sporting the number 67, Al Balooshi will be making his debut in the 33rd staging of the rally on behalf of the KTM-UAE Rally Team, which has a developed a four-year ‘Road to Dakar’ program with the eventual objective of entering a full, UAE-based team into the race.
Speaking from the rally’s base camp in the Argentinian coastal city of Mar Del Plata, Al Balooshi said: “Despite the 36-hour trip here, I’ve been feeling great. I’ve never felt as excited as I did when I arrived here.
“The Dakar Rally is the talk of the country, with signs and adverts everywhere. The Argentinians have been so friendly and enthusiastic, with everyone wanting to talk about the race and how excited they are to see it begin.
“The weather has also been surprisingly good. I came prepared for extreme cold, which I know we are still likely to encounter during the fourth stage of the race when we start gaining altitude in the mountains.”
While he is competing as the sole representative of the KTM-UAE Rally Team, Balooshi will benefit from having the KTM Factory Rally Team on-site to provide comprehensive support for him and his KTM 450 RALLY bike throughout the course of the grueling race.
In addition to Al Balooshi, one of the UAE’s most talented cross-country rally crews will also take part in the competition. Abdulla Al Heraiz and his co-driver Khalid Al-Kendi will be there for the second successive year after finishing a respectable 26th out of 55 finishers in 2011.
The 2012 Dakar Rally is being hosted in South America for the fourth consecutive year. Starting on new year’s day in Mar Del Plata, Argentina, and ending on January 15 in Lima, Peru, the race consists of 14 rounds in total – five in Argentina, five in Chile and four in Peru – and will take in a total of more than 9,000km.
“Despite this being my first time competing in this race, I’ve worked hard to prepare for the thrills and excitement that come with facing this challenge,” said Al Balooshi.
“Obviously I come from a desert background, but when it comes to this year’s Dakar, we’re talking about three countries that take you through a variety of terrain unlike anything I’ve experienced in the UAE.”
Balooshi, who has won three Arab Championships, two Gulf Championships and nine UAE Championships, added: “This race will be a unique experience for me. While I’ve won a number of championships back home, when it comes to Dakar, there’s no pressure from the team for me to climb the podium.
“Especially considering it’s my first participation and I’m up against legends like last year’s champion, Marc Coma, and triple Dakar winner Cyril Despres. But I always strive for the best when competing against top names in any event.”
“As for Abdullah and Khalid, I’m very positive they will do an amazing job and finish in a much better place than last year due to their experience with this race.
“Preparation for Dakar is not easy because it is a very demanding event, but we can rely on these youngsters to get good results because they are hard workers and I believe they will represent the country and the Arab world very well.”
Report from Mar Del Plata, the 31st December 2011
443 vehicles will take part in the 2012 Dakar, which will start from Mar del Plata and head towards Lima, where the pilots will arrive following an 8,300-kilometre trek through Argentinean, Chilean and Peruvian territory. The battle for the four titles at stake is about to begin.
At this time of the year, beaches in “La Feliz” are packed with holidaymakers every day. But today, all eyes are focused on Plaza Colón, a bit further from the sea, where a podium has been set up for the presentation of the teams to the public before the race. This ceremony is usually held before tens of thousands of spectators, who have 443 vehicles to marvel at and applaud this year. Despite the festive ambiance in the city, the atmosphere must feel quite chilly for a handful of competitors who will have to forget their ambitions. Indeed, seven quads failed the technical checks, since they were too different from the production models they were supposed to represent. “Prototypes” are not allowed in this category! Although they will be allowed to participate, Josef Machacek (5-time winner), Lukasz Laskawiec (3rd in 2011), Christophe Declerck (4th in 2011), Rafal Sonik, Antoine Leconte, Norberto Cangani and Maciej Albinowski are no longer eligible for the general classification. The path to victory seems clear for the Patronelli brothers, or at least for a battle among South Americans.
Although their fate is yet to be decided, four motorcycle riders are also in a situation which will probably make them smile in a few days’ time, but which is giving them quite a few headaches at the moment. Iain Stevenson, Neil Scott-Thomas, Darryl Curtis and Greg Raaf’s motorcycles were delayed on their trip from the United States. As of December 31, the ship carrying them has only reached Delta Dock, roughly 500 km from Mar del Plata. In order to give them a chance to win this first time trial, the organisers decided to make headway with the administrative part of their scrutineering and call for help from the Argentinean authorities to speed up customs procedures, but seeing these four riders at the starting line is not a done deal. The deputy manager of the rally, David Castera, has asked them to be ready for tomorrow morning at 5 am if they are able to bring in their motorcycles for a simplified technical scrutineering process.
The four victims of sea transport misadventures would be happy just to start the race, but other pilots are already thinking about the top step of the podium in Lima. Among them are Cyril Despres and Marc Coma, who walked around the aisles of the scrutineering area clad in identical orange shirts. Their relaxed mood and companionship contrasts with the tense relationship they have had over the last few years, and the defending champion shows he wants to keep things that way: “Things have calmed down a lot between us, I think it is much better to start the race in this state of mind.” In the car category, Nasser Al-Attiyah has also teamed up with a former rival, Robby Gordon, who has put him at the wheel of a Hummer H3 decorated with the colours of Qatar. He will probably have to beat a former teammate if he wants to mount a successful title defence: at the wheel of his Mini, it looks like Stéphane Peterhansel has got what he needs to finally take his 10th win after years of trying.