The might of the Minis tri­umphs in Dakar rally

Five of the mil­lion-dol­lar ma­chines started and five fin­ished in the top 10 in the world’s tough­est mo­tor­sport con­test, writes MARK HINCHLIFFE

NT News - Motoring - - CARS GUIDE -

IT’S the ul­ti­mate tor­ture test of man and ma­chine across the dri­est desert in the world, some of the high­est and most rugged moun­tains, and tem­per­a­tures rang­ing from 50C to freez­ing.

In the end, the mighty Mini, loosely based on the All4 Coun­try­man, con­quered the 2012 Dakar Rally which be­gan on Jan­uary 1 and fin­ished on Jan­uary 15.

Five Minis started and in­cred­i­bly five fin­ished in the top 10, in­clud­ing first and sec­ond.

Mini was the favourite be­fore the event with its en­tries pre­pared by the suc­cess­ful Frank­furt-based X-raid com­pany, and a col­lec­tion of cham­pion driv­ers, in­clud­ing the vic­to­ri­ous French­man Stephane Peter­hansel, who has now won four car ti­tles and six times on a mo­tor­cy­cle.

The Minis cost $1.1 mil­lion each and, although based on the road­go­ing Coun­try­man cost­ing about $40,000-$60,000, they are much higher and wider, with 16-inch wheels and a car­bon body. And in­stead of 1.9-litre four-cylin­der en­gine, they have a three-litre, six­cylin­der turbo diesel.

The only stan­dard parts of the ve­hi­cle are the lights, wind­screen, door han­dles, and tail-lights. The rest is pure pro­to­type.

VW pulled out this year af­ter win­ning the past three ral­lies, in­clud­ing a tri­fecta last year, paving the way for an­other man­u­fac­turer to take over.

Be­fore VW, Mit­subishi dom­i­nated from 2001-07 for a com­bined to­tal of 12 wins over 33 years with the 2008 rally can­celled due to ter­ror­ist threats. The fol­low­ing year the event shifted from North Africa to South Amer­ica where it has re­tained ‘‘the spirit of Dakar’’ with its rugged ter­rain.

This year’s course was claimed to be the tough­est yet with man and ma­chine tack­ling high tem­per­a­tures of 50C and stage six can­celled be­cause of per­sis­tent snow storms over the An­des.

En­try to this gru­elling event is costly with some teams spend­ing mil­lions on car prepa­ra­tion and mil­lions more with back-up crew, trucks and spares.

VW made the most of its ex­pens- ive vic­to­ries with sub­stan­tial ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paigns, in par­tic­u­lar its pro­mo­tion of the Amarok pickup which was merely a back-up ve­hi­cle for last year’s rally. But don’t ex­pect the same from Mini af­ter its win at its sec­ond at­tempt.

BMW Group Aus­tralia head of cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tions Piers Scott points out that the five cars were part of a pri­vate team en­try, not a fac­tory team.

‘‘Aside from the car, and ob­vi­ous tech­ni­cal as­sis­tance, I don’t think there is too much in the way of an of­fi­cial con­nec­tion to the X-raid team, be­sides the fact it is led by Sven Quandt, who is a son of Her­bert Quandt,’’ he said.

(Quandt was a Ger­man in­dus­tri­al­ist lauded for turn­ingbmwfrom bank­ruptcy to profit.)

It cer­tainly sets the tone nicely for Mini’s in­creas­ing in­volve­ment in mo­tor­sport

‘‘There­fore, I don’t think there are any plans to shout about it too loudly, but it cer­tainly sets the tone nicely for Mini’s in­creas­ing in­volve­ment in mo­tor­sport.’’

Mini was pushed through­out this year’s rally by the Hum­mers of Nascar leg­end Robby Gor­don and last year’s win­ner Nasser AlAt­tiyah, and the sin­gle pri­vate en­try of 2009 win­ner Giniel De Vil­liers in a Toy­ota Hi-lux.

While the big-money Mini en­try caught all the head­lines, the De Vil­liers en­try gave Toy­ota a sur­pris­ing and much-needed boost af­ter a tough 2011 when it slipped from the world’s top sell­ers in the wake of the tsunami in Ja­pan and floods in Thai­land.

He fin­ished third, even though his ma­chine was made to com­ply with next year’s Dakar en­gine spec­i­fi­ca­tions.

An­other sur­pris­ingly suc­cess­ful en­try was the Great Wall SUV driven by Por­tu­gal’s Car­los Souza, who has raced for Mit­subishi, Nis­san and Volk­swa­gen. Over a 10-year pe­riod, ex­cept for a dis­ap­point­ing 2010 rally, Souza has never fin­ished out­side the top 10, with a best of fourth in 2003.

In 2012, he fin­ished an amaz­ing sev­enth and 4.5 hours be­hind.

The re­sult gives the Chi­nese man­u­fac­turer some­thing to smile about af­ter the dis­ap­point­ing twostar safety rat­ing it scored in the Aus­tralia New Car As­sess­ment Pro­gram last year for its util­i­ties.

Dakar of­fi­cials this year lim­ited the en­tries to 171 cars, 185 bikes, 33 quad bikes and 76 trucks. But only 97 mo­tor­cy­cles, 12 quads, 78 cars and 60 trucks made it to the fin­ish­ing line.

Among those was Team Latvia’s OS­CAR eo, the event’s first elec­tric ve­hi­cle. The OS­CAR eo has an ‘‘en­gine’’ bay filled with 52.5kwh of bat­ter­ies and is pow­ered by an elec­tric mo­tor nom­i­nally rated at 210kw with a top speed of 140km/ h, and range of 800km.

Like GM’S Volt, which will be avail­able for sale in Aus­tralia later this year as a Holden, the OS­Car eo has a back-up petrol gen­er­a­tor that charges the bat­ter­ies to ex­tend the elec­tric ve­hi­cle’s range.

In this case it’s a 3.5-litre V6 Nis­san en­gine.

The ve­hi­cle fin­ished 77th or sec­ond last, but at least it fin­ished, which is al­ways dif­fi­cult in the world’s tough­est long-run­ning mo­tor­sport event.

Ex­pect to see more elec­tric ve­hi­cles com­pet­ing in fu­ture.

The bike cat­e­gory was an arm wres­tle be­tween KTM team­mates Cyril De­spres, of France, and Marc Coma, of Spain, with three wins each. They ex­changed the lead at al­most ev­ery stage of the race and when De­spres was stuck in the mud late in the rally it looked like Coma’s fourth.

How­ever, the of­fi­cials deleted the time de­lay be­cause other rid­ers were di­verted from the ob­sta­cle and it came down to a tight fin­ish with De­spres the vic­tor.

Ar­gen­tine broth­ers Ale­jan­dro and Mar­cos Pa­tronelli won the quad sec­tion on their Yama­has, while Dutch teams took out the top two truck po­si­tions in Ive­cos.

Cyril De­spres, of France, rides his KTM as he cel­e­brates af­ter win­ning the 2012 Ar­gentina-chile-peru Dakar Rally in the mo­tor­bike cat­e­gory and, in­set, race win­ners Jean Paul Cot­tret (co-driver) and Stephane Peter­hansel (driver), both of France

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