Sun, Jan 03, 2010 - Page 19 News List

Dakar Rally celebrates symbolic start in Colon


Taiwanese driver Chen Ho-huang waves from a Mercedes U500 truck during the presentation of the Dakar competitors in Buenos Aires on Friday.


Thousands gathered at the Obelisk in the center of the Argentine capital to watch the symbolic start of the Dakar Rally, a 349km drive to the city of Colon on Friday.

The real racing on the 9,000km journey across Argentina and Chile was to begin yesterday for more than 350 cars, motorbikes, quads and trucks, with the finish set for Jan. 16 back in Buenos Aires.

The rally was moved to South America last year because of safety concerns and the possibility of a terrorist attack in Africa.

Organizers said on Friday that 362 vehicles passed scrutineering — 134 cars, 151 motorbikes, 25 quads and 52 trucks. News reports estimated about 200,000 people gathered to watch the start.

However, the field was reduced to 361 after the bike of Argentina’s Javier Pizzolito caught fire.

Last year’s winner, Giniel De Villiers of South Africa, leads the favorites. Last year’s champions in other categories also return: Spanish motorcyclist Marc Coma, Czech quad driver Josef Machacek, and Russian truck driver Firdaus Kabirov.

Teams from Volkswagen and BMW are the favorites. Volkswagen boasts De Villiers, as well as former world rally champion Carlos Sainz from Spain and Qatar’s Nasser al-Attiyah.

BMW have 44-year-old French driver Stephane Peterhansel behind the wheel, a six-time champion on motorbikes and three-time winner in cars of the Dakar Rally in Africa and Nani Roma of Spain.

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