Peugeot's French driver Stephane Peterhansel and his co-driver Jean Paul Cottret take part in a driving session on the eve of technical checkup in San Bartolo, Peru, on January 4, 2018, ahead of the 2018 Dakar Rally
Lima (AFP) - Stephane Peterhansel will target a 14th victory on the Dakar Rally, played out over 9,000km of gruelling terrain which includes criss-crossing the Andes and confronting the unique physical demands of Bolivia’s thin air.
The 40th edition of the classic endurance event, the tenth to be held in South America since it was shifted from terror-hit sub-Sahara Africa, starts in the Peruvian capital of Lima on Saturday and ends in Argentina’s second city of Cordoba on January 20.
Peterhansel has won on four-wheels seven times, including the last two for Peugeot, and scorched to six titles on a motorbike since his event debut in 1988.
The veteran 52-year-old led a podium sweep in the car race for the French manufacturer in 2017 and this year will be favourite again alongside teammates Carlos Sainz, a two-time world rally champion and 2010 winner at the Dakar, Cyril Despres and Sebastien Loeb, a nine-time world rally champion.
Details of the 2018 Dakar rally
“Peru is the country that comes closest to Africa, with many dunes and big off-track spaces,” said Peterhansel.
“The mix between Peru, Bolivia and Argentina will probably be one of the most beautiful races in South America. They will be special – long and hard.”
He added: “We have to get out of Peru well placed. With all the dunes, we must try not to get bogged down. The rally will not be decided before the finish line in Argentina.”
Loeb, meanwhile, was runner-up last year, 12 months after finishing ninth on his debut.
“We will see,” Loeb told AFP when asked of his title prospects this year.
“It’s difficult to predict as there are so many variables on the Dakar. There are lots of factors which can swing it either way.”
Peugeot’s main rival will again be Toyota who will be represented by Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah (2011 and 2015 Dakar winner) and South Africa’s Giniel De Villiers (the 2009 champion).
The two-week race will also see Portuguese football manager Andre Villas-Boas taking part.
Villas-Boas, who coached Porto, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Zenit St Petersburg and Shanghai SIGP, will drive a Toyota Hilux as he revives a family link – his uncle Pedro Villas-Boas drove in the race in 1982 in a 4x4.
Villas-Boas, 40, said that he had originally thought of riding a motorcycle on the Dakar but then changed his mind after talking to one of the motorbike teams.
“I spoke with my friend Alex Doringer, the manager of the KTM team, who told me that I would still need a full year’s preparation to get there and that it was better to consider doing it with a car,” Villas-Boas told the Dakar Rally website.
“So I got in touch with Team Overdrive and here I am!”