Dakar 2016 is on, and it‘s going to be no less than marvellous. This year, there are 354 teams competing in world‘s most dangerous and difficult rally, but only four of them will come out as the champions. It‘s going to take thirteen days in South American deserts and almost 9000 kilometres, so only the very best can hope to triumph – and who are they?
1. Nasser Al Attiyah (Mini, Qatar”)
Nasser Al Attiyah is no rookie – this year, he started in Dakar for 11th time, and he’s already managed to place top back in 2011 and 2015. His experience will come in handy because Attiyah is just as ambitious this time around too – he has a third title in his plans, as well as a hope to break the record for most stages won in Dakar.
The latter goal will be just as challenging as the title chase, as even though Attiyah already is in the 6th place with 24 stages won, it will be difficult to surpass the current leader Ari Vatanen, who is ahead by having won more than twice as many stages. However, considering Attiyah’s excellent form, this year should put him much closer to the target.
2. Giniel De Villiers (Toyota, South Africa)/Stephane Peterhansel (Peugot, France)/Carlos Sainz (Peugot, Spain)
The living legend Stephane Peterhansel is racing this year again, after having won 32 stages and 11 champion titles – six of which were in the bike class. While he is certainly no spring chicken, his experience will without a doubt be very useful in Dakar, and he is one of the main favourites for the title this year.
However, he’s got many excellent drivers to best of which one is Carlos Sainz. He’s a weathered Dakar racer with this year’s start being his ninth. Sainz has won 27 stages, however, he only sports one title when he won back in 2010. The 53-year-old driver is a force to be reckoned with, and he can certainly add a second title to his résumé after the current rally.
Giniel de Villiers is another favourite. He finished second last year and just like Sainz, he has one title from a while back – Villiers won the rally in 2009. Still, he has been finishing in at least fourth position for five past years, and his Toyota Hillux is perfectly suited for the harsh desert conditions, too, which only adds to him being one of the main title contenders.
1. Joan Barreda (Honda, Spain)
A title was close last year for the Spanish driver Joan Barreda, as he was leading in the bike class overall rankings after seven stages, however, he crashed in the eight, breaking his Honda’s steering wheel. The amount of time lost meant no chance at winning that year, but he still managed to finish 17th and with last year’s champion Marc Coma not participating this year, Barreda can really go for the gold this time around.
2. Paulo Goncalves (Honda, Portugal)
Last year, Paulo Goncalves nearly snatched the title with Marc Coma only besting him by sixteen minutes and this year Barreda’s teammate is one of the most likely contenders for the title. It’s the 10th start for the Portuguese veteran, and despite him only mentioning the importance of his team winning, to win an anniversary race would definitely be a symbolic achievement.
3. Jordi Viladoms (KTM, Spain)
As the five-time champion Marc Coma retired from both Dakar and team KTM, another Spanish racer Jordi Viladoms has a brilliant shot at making it to the very top. It’s his 10th start in the rally, however, he hasn’t snatched any titles yet, with his best result being the second place finish in 2014 with Coma being two hours ahead of him.
1. Rafal Sonik (Poland)/Ignacio Casale (Chile)/Marcos and Alejandro Patronelli (Argentina) – all Yamaha drivers
While in the bike category it is quite clear who has better chances at the title, it’s really a fair game as far as it goes in the quads’. There are four Yamaha drivers that all are as good as each other, and it is nearly impossible to tell who is going to be the champion.
Polish Rafal Sonik finished first last year with the closest contenders being three hours behind him, but considering that Ignacio Casale had to resign with an injury and the Patronelli brothers didn’t participate, it’s a bit of a different picture this year.
Before Casale’s injury, him and Sonik were still in a persistent duel after the ninth stage, however, when the 2014 champion Casale had to retire from the race, the road to the triumph was clear for the Polish racer.
The Argentinian brother duo returning is something to be taken note of, too. Both of them have two Dakar titles, and while Alejandro has had a three year break, Marcos only skipped a year. The local heroes have plenty of experience and despite neither of them starting in Dakar 2015, they are one of the main contenders this time around.
1. Eduard Nikolaev (Kamaz, Russia)
Vladimir Chagin started the domination of Kamaz and Russian racers in the truck class, and his fellow compatriots are making sure it lasts. Russian teams won 12 out of 15 last Dakar rallies, and they’re not ready to stop. Last year it was Ayrat Mardeev who triumphed, and this time around, the 2013 champion Eduard Nikolaev is the favourite to win.
2. Andrey Karginov (Kamaz, Russia)/Gerard de Rooy (Iveco, Holland)
If there is one team that can challenge the Russians, it’s the 2012 champion Gerard de Rooy with an Iveco. This year, he is starting in Dakar for the 12th time and he has won 27 stages which is the third best result ever.
Still, he is also going to face Andrey Karginov – and according to the TonyBet bookies, the Kamaz-driving Russian has even better chances at a win, his odds being at 3/1 against the Dutch driver’s 4/1. It’s no wonder, either, as he’s been finishing in leading positions for three latest Dakar rallies, won in 2014 and his worst result to date is finishing fourth in his first rally of 2012.