Purists may argue that with the Dakar Rally running in South America for the fourth consecutive year – after the event was abandoned amid threats of terrorism in 2008 – that the brand may be the same, but the actual product is not.
Some will also suggest that unless it finishes in the city that bares its name, that it’s not a patch on previous years. That moving the rally to another continent was tantamount to deciding that the Monaco Grand Prix should be staged in Plymouth harbour. They challenge, they say, is less intense – the whole reason why the rally existed in the first place.
Which is, of course, nonsense, for the Dakar continues to be one of the most gruelling events in motorsport and remains as exciting as ever to watch – no matter where, no matter how.
The 2012 running of the event is now entering its final stages, much to the delight of the hundreds of competitors who have tackled some of the roughest, toughest, terrain imaginable.
Starting in the Argentine city of Mar Del Plata and venturing north to Chile – passing through uninhabitable locations and thousands of sand dunes along the way – before heading towards the Peruvian capital of Lima. This year’s Dakar has been as treacherous as ever.
Those facing this remarkable challenge are split into the usual four categories: cars, bikes, quads and trucks. It’s fair to say that of these, the cars receive the greater share of the Dakar spotlight, and none more so than 2009 winner Giniel de Villiers who looks to be on course for a podium finish following the recent disqualification of Robby Gordon.
De Villiers is currently sitting comfortably in third place overall in his newly-developed Toyota Hilux and, despite being an hour adrift of nine-time Dakar winner Stephan Peterhansel, just about anything and everything can happen, so it’s well worth keeping an eye on his progress over the next couple of days.
Of course, Dakar’s not all about the cars, and if there was any mode of transport well suited to such a cross-country endurance race it would be one of the two-wheel variety.
Red Bull-backed stars Marc Coma and Cyril Despres are in a league of their own when it comes to the Dakar, and they don’t come any better than the former, who has won three of the past five.
The pair has waged a two-man battle at the front of the bike category this past fortnight, with the overall lead changing on an almost daily basis. As things stand, Frenchman Despres currently has the upper hand over his KTM team-mate to the tune of just 2m22s which, after approximately 4,000 miles of running, is quite frankly staggering.
With so many parameters that play a major part in the Dakar, it’s impossible to know who will cross the finishing line first, even at this late stage in the event. And that’s what makes it so fascinating to watch: the unpredictability of it all.
Will de Villiers be able to make his way up to the top step of the podium, and who will win what has become a classic battle between the two-wheel aces Despres and Coma?
The trio’s Dakar adventure has been brilliantly captured on Red Bull’s Dakar Rally 2012 website, which has proved to be an excellent resource for up-to-date coverage as the event has unfolded.
So, whether you are a Dakar devotte, or just looking for a quick motorsport fix to see you through the off-season, you can catch up on all the progress of Red Bull’s participants on their dedicated Dakar website located here.