Preview courtesy of Husqvarna Motorcycles SA, Shameer Variawa Racing and Red Lined Motoring Adventures.
While some argue they should call it the Peru, Dakar 2019 is limbering up for a ten-day jaunt around the South American desert territory with cars, bikes, trucks, quads and side-by-side buggies vying for top honours in the various classes. There will also once again be significant South African interest at the Dakar with strong entries in the car and bike categories.
Consistency is key for South Africa’s Gazoo Toyota team, which once again entrusts a made in SA Hilux each to Qatari Nasser Al Attiyah, SA Dakar hero Giniel de Villiers and Dutch driver Bernhard ten Brinke, while multiple former SA off-road special vehicle champion Shameer Variawa and Zaheer Bodhanya will be the first SA entrants of colour as they vie to keep that Rookie award in SA with their locally developed and built SVR Red Lined Nissan Navara.
Much South African interest this year should come on two wheels as SA Enduro champion, Botswana rider Ross Branch (KTM) and local archrival, former SA triple champion Kenny Gilbert (Husqvarna) will carry their eternal battle on to Peru, while Stuart Gregory will tackle the no-service Malle Moto bike class on a KTM to hopefully take bike interest back to where it was back in the day of Alfie Cox.
Another South African competitor is Sean Berriman riding shotgun in a MAN truck alongside German Mathias Behringer, while a greater proportion of the cars entered were built in SA – from the fleet of Hall Hiluxes through the Nissans to the Renaults and a few Fords too.
Looking at the bigger picture, the big news among the cars is that X-raid Mini has signed recent Dakar-winning factory Peugeot refugees Stephane Peterhansel, Carlos Sainz Sr and Cyril Despres to drive three buggies, while Seb Loeb will return too, to race a privateer Peugeot and many a fan will be delighted that Robby Gordon returns to Dakar aboard a Textron Off-Road XX alongside fellow Americans Blade Hilderland and Cole Potts .
Czech Martin Prokop is always a factor in his Ford Raptor and do not ignore the fleet of 4x4 Minis including cars for Pole Jakub Przygonski, Argentine Orlando Terranova and Saudi flyer Yazeed Al Rajhi, while Russian Vladimir Vasilyev and Lithuanian Antanas Juknevicius should be among the quicker privateer Hiluxes and Brit Harry Hunt is racing alongside Loeb in a privateer Peugeot.
The two wheelers will be out to stop KTM’s incredible two decade run of uninterrupted Dakar success. The Austrian bike maker however knows how to win and with works men, Austrian Matthias Walkner, Aussie Toby Price, Spaniard Juan Pedrero Garcia and Brit Sam Sunderland at the helm backed by Slovaks duo Stefan Svitko and Ivan Jakes and Spain’s lady rider Laia Sanz, it will not be an easy task to stem that orange tide up front.
Honda has come close of late and its riders, Portuguese Paulo Goncalves, Spaniard Joan Barreda Bort, American Ricky Brabec, Frenchman Michael Metge and Argentine Diego Martin Duplessis are hell bent to paint the top of that Peruvian podium red. Yamaha’s Frenchmen Adrien Van Beveren and Xavier De Soultrait, and Italian Franco Caimi rather dream of a blue podium hue, while Husqvarna mounted Chilean Pablo Quintanilla and French rider Adrien Metge on a Sherco have their own ideas too.
The quad race is all about Yamahas with Argentinian riders Nicolas Cavigliasso, Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli and Carlos Alejandro Verza; Paraguayan Nelson Augusto Sanabria Galeano and Frenchmen Axel Dutrie Alexandre Giroud chasing victory on blue machines, but Bolivian Juan Carlos Salvatierra will fly the Barren Racer flag and Czech Tomas Kubiena plans to upset the applecart aboard an IBOS.
Dakar’s Side by Sides continue to grow and Can Am remains the brand to beat in that fledgling class with Brazilian Reinaldo Varela, Chileans Gustavo Gugelmin and Juan Carlos Vallej, Spanish bike refugee Gerard Farres Guell and American Casey Curry flying that flag, but the likes of Frenchman Eric Abel’s Polaris, Russian quad convert Sergei Kariakin on a BRP will be out to surprise.
Last but not least, Dakar’s behemoths are as ever an integral part of the race and the Russians are the men to beat there with Eduard Nikolaev, Airat Mardeev and Dimitry Sotnikov chasing even more glory for Kamaz. They will have Iveco trio, Dutchmen Gerard De Rooy and Ton Van Genugten and Argentine Federico Villagra, Czech drivers Martin Macik’s LIAZ and Ales Loprais and Martin Kolomy in Tatras, Dutch driver Martin van den Brink’s Renault and Belarusian Siarhei Viazovich in a MAZ to keep them honest in the dunes.
Dakar 2019 runs exclusively in Peru with the emphasis this year on the desert and the dunes making sand racing an essential skill. Motorsport Media will cover the Dakar with a general report every day as it happens from Peru throughout the 6-17 January epic through – be sure to visit www.motorsportmedia.co.za daily to keep up to date with all the latest news from Peru.