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
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