Lima - 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 team-mates Carlos Sainz, a two-time world rally champion and 2010
winner at the Dakar, Cyril Despres and Sebastien Loeb, a nine-time world 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 said 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
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