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Elham AbolFateh

Automobile

Dakar Rally: is it the world's toughest race?

Monday 28/January/2019 - 11:06 AM
Sada El Balad
Auto Express




We go behind the scenes at the 2019 Dakar Rally to find out what lures drivers، engineers and team bosses back time and time again.

Le Mans، the Isle of Man TT، the Indy 500 – some motorsport events truly capture the imagination، holding an almost mythological status among participants and spectators alike. And the most extreme، longest and arguably most exciting race going is the Dakar Rally.

Now in its 41st year، the Dakar remains as gruelling as ever، but it hasn’t all been plain sailing; there have been some issues organisers couldn’t ignore. In 2008، the event was cancelled due to security concerns، and the rally moved from Africa to South America the following year. The name remains unchanged، however، and the excitement unparalleled.

We’ve flown to Peru with MINI، whose motorsport partner X-raid is taking part in the 2019 Dakar – the 40th race every to be run. Our aim? To get up close and personal with the men، women and machines taking part in this 3،100-mile، 10-day rally raid، experience the buzz first-hand، and hitch a ride in one of X-raid’s Dakar cars.

An hour’s drive south from Lima takes us to X-raid’s proving ground in the desert، close to Punta Negra. It’s a desolate spot with an edge-of-the-world ambience، framed by steep dunes and drenched in the baking sun.

This is X-raid’s 16th Dakar، and the team is fielding five examples of the John Cooper Works Rally four-wheel-drive Countryman – as well as three rear-wheel-drive JCW buggies. The Buggy and Countryman both have a steel spaceframe construction and share the same engine: a 3.0-litre turbocharged BMW diesel unit delivering 345bhp and 770Nm of torque.

That torque figure is one of the reasons for choosing diesel over petrol; the other is related to efficiency. The Countryman has a 365-litre tank، while the lighter Buggy carries 325 litres، but running on petrol would require those capacities to increase to 500 litres، adding weight.

Yet while Buggy and 4x4 use the same engines، the drivetrain differences have a major effect، something X-raid technical director Bernard Lindauer explains. “The buggy has advantages over the 4x4 – the weight [it’s about 200kg lighter]،” he says. “There is a suspension travel limit of 280mm for the 4x4; for the rear-wheel-drive buggy we are achieving around 400mm of travel. A not insignificant difference."

And the disadvantages of rear-wheel drive over four-wheel drive? “The buggy is more sensitive to tyre pressures،” Lindauer tells us. “So it’s allowed to have a self-inflation system، which the 4x4 car is not."

One of X-raid’s Buggy drivers، Cyril Despres، confirms Lindauer’s point، telling us: “Tyre pressure is really important. If you get it wrong، you can’t climb mountains. We adjust it from inside.

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