Over 100 car crews have signed up for the 40th edition, which starts in Lima on 6 January.
The drivers of the Lion brand, racing in their last Dakar with Peugeot, are the odds-on favourites, starting with leader Stéphane Peterhansel's hunt for a 14th win! However, Nasser Al-Attiyah's Toyota and Nani Roma's X-Raid are determined to challenge the Dream Team for victory.
13 light-weight buggies will be competing in the category now known as "Side by Side", with Camelia Liparoti tackling the Dakar from a new perspective after spicing up the quad race since 2009.
Peugeot's return in 2015 was the start of a new chapter in the history of the Dakar. Fans in the 1980s already knew what it was like to be kept on the edge of their seats by the lions, which at the time roared with the Finnish accent of Vatanen and Kankkunen.
Fast-forward a few decades and the lions are again kings of the jungle. After just one false start, Stéphane Peterhansel took the 3008 to victory in 2016 and, one year later, successfully defended his title against teammates Sébastien Loeb and Cyril Despres in a 1-2-3 that showed the crushing superiority of the French maker.
Peugeot's announcement that it will not be participating in future editions has made the favourites determined to go out with a bang with their upgraded 3008 Maxi car. The rumours swirling about "Peter" retiring after 30 years of racing in the Dakar have only hardened the resolve of the fiercely competitive defending champion.
Teammate Sébastien Loeb may be relatively inexperienced, but he has shown the talent of a future Dakar champion, claiming nine specials in two editions and, most importantly, finishing in second place last year, just five minutes behind his captain.
Cyril Despres, with a wholly different driving style, has also shown an amazing ability to adapt, finishing third in 2017 in his third shot at the car category after five overall wins on a motorcycle.
Finally, Carlos Sainz's glory days are slowly fading into the distance after failing to finish five consecutive editions, but he remains as aggressive as ever and it would be a mistake to write him off. The Dream Team is looking good!
However, their rivals do not intend to go down without a fight.
After a rock-solid 2017 campaign, Nasser Al-Attiyah can no longer be considered a mere. The Qatari driver was leading last year's Dakar when a mechanical failure knocked him out of the race in stage 3, but he has since won seven out of eight races, with a fourth Cross-Country Rally World Cup to boot and an important psychological victory over Loeb in his latest outing at the Rally of Morocco.
Al-Attiyah's confidence rests on his intricate knowledge of the race and the substantial upgrades Toyota Gazoo Racing have made to their Hiluxes, from which 2009 champion Giniel De Villiers also stands to benefit. X-Raid, which are fielding three two-wheel drive buggies with Mikko Hirvonen, rookie Bryce Menzies and Yazeed Al-Rajhi at the wheels, could also take a great leap forward.
The German team's boss, Sven Qandt, has reserved his ace 4×4 Mini (a four-time winner of the Dakar between 2012 and 2015) for star signing Joan "Nani" Roma and Orly Terranova. The entire X-Raid roster has what it takes to aim for a podium spot… or higher.
Side by Side: a fresh challenge for Camelia Liparoti
Light-weight buggies have been racing the Dakar in small numbers for several years.
A dedicated category was launched in 2017 with eight competitors on the start line. The S×S category is an attractive proposition for bikers looking for a change of scenery and budget-conscious drivers, as well as a gateway to the Dakar chosen by increasing numbers of amateurs.
13 crews will be on the start line in Lima this year. The fight for glory looks set to be between Xtrem+'s Polaris RZR buggies, which have the most experience at the Dakar and won the 2017 edition with Brazilian Leandro Torres; the Mavrick X3 CAN-AMs, racing in their maiden edition; and the Yamaha 1000 YXZs.
Camelia Liparoti, the most consistent female quad rider of the Dakar's South American era with nine consecutive finishes under her belt, is tackling a fresh challenge at the wheel of a Yamaha.
The Franco-Italian rider finished second out of 33 S×S buggies in her dress rehearsal at the Merzouga Rally, good enough to place her among the favourites in a category where virtually anything could happen.
Among her closest rivals will be the Peruvian crew of Juan Carlos Uribe and Javier Uribe.
The duo showed their mettle at the continental level with two wins at the Baja Inca, which netted them the Dakar Challenge and a ticket to go head-to-head with the world elite in the Dakar.
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