Five former Dakar Rally Champions take on 2014 edition

The 2014 Dakar Rally in South America is a little over four weeks away and the release of the entry list and start numbers confirms that the Toyota Imperial South Africa Team of Giniel de Villiers/Dirk von Zitzewitz and Leeroy Poulter/Rob Howie are in the company of the world’s top rally raid teams as they take on the world’s longest and toughest cross country race.

There are five former champions at the top of the start order, including De Villiers and Von Zitzewitz, who won the first South American version of the Dakar in 2009 and will carry #302 on their Toyota Imperial Hilux. They finished a remarkable second in this year’s Dakar Rally after claiming third place in Toyota Motorsport South Africa’s first attempt in 2012.

Leading the field from the start in Rosario, Argentina on January 5 will be defending champions Stéphane Peterhansel/Jean Paul Cottret of France in a MINI (#300). Peterhansel has won the Dakar 11 times, six on a motorcycle and five in a car. Next away will be Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar and Spanish co-driver Lucas Cruz, winners in 2011, who will be in a MINI (#301). De Villiers, competing in his 11th Dakar, and Von Zitzewitz will start third ahead of 2010 winner Carlos Sainz of Spain and German co-driver Timo Gottschalk in an American-built buggy (#303). Spaniard Nani Roma, winner of the 2004 bike category before switching to cars, and French co-driver Michel Perrin will start fifth in a MINI (#304).

Dakar rookie Poulter and Howie, competing in his third Dakar after finishing 10th with Duncan Vos in his rookie year in 2011, will start in 23rd position in the second Toyota Imperial Hilux (#323).

Ahead of the 450 competitors representing 50 nationalities in cars, trucks, motorcycles and quads lies a daunting route of some 9,500km through Argentina, Bolivia (bikes and quads only) and Chile. It is the longest, highest and hardest Dakar Rally in the past 10 years with some 5,000 kilometres of special stages – 13 in all – to test the mental and physical strength of the crews.

The opening stage on January 5, from Rosario, the birthplace of Che Guevara and Lionel Messi, to San Luis is a short 180 kilometres after a long liaison section of 629 kilometres. The stages get progressively longer until day four on January 8 when the car and truck competitors will encounter the longest stage the Dakar has presented since 2005 in Africa, a 657-kilometre mainly sand test from San Juan to Chilecito in Argentina.

There is a rest day on January 11 in Salta in Argentina, where tens of thousands of spectators are expected to gather around the Dakar Village.

The rally crosses over the Andes Mountains through the highest pass in Argentina at an altitude of over 4,900m and into Chile on January 13 for stage 8 between Salta and Calama.

There are two more 600km-plus stages back-to-back – stages 10 and 11 in Chile on January 15 and 16 – with the latter taking competitors from Antofagusta to El Salvador via the Atacama Desert, said to be the driest in the world, and the dunes of Copiapo. The organisers reckon this will be the key stage of the 2014 Dakar.

The rally ends with the shortest stage of 157km from La Serena to Valparaiso, the port city known as the Pearl of the Pacific with its 44 hills overlooking the ocean and covered in colourful houses.

Photos by Marc Bow.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.