The 2020 edition of the Dakar Rally, being run in Saudi Arabia for the first time, began with a one-two-three MINI finish on Stage One on January 5. The Lithuanian duo of Vaidotas Zala and Saulius Jurgelenas in the #319 MINI JCW Rally were the surprise winners of the stage. The two MINI JCW Buggies in the event, including the #302 run by Stéphane Peterhansel and his co-driver Paulo Fiuza, and the #305, with Carlos Sainz and his co-driver Lucas Cruz on board, were third.

Peterhansel has won the Dakar thirteen times, including six on bikes and seven in cars. Fiuza is a substitute for Peterhansel’s wife Andrea, who was a successful driver in the past, using her maiden name Mayer. She co-drove with him when they won the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies in 2019, but is sitting out the Dakar for health reasons.

Sven Quandt’s X-Raid team is supporting all nine MINIs in the rally, including the Peterhansel and Sainz buggies and seven MINI JCW Rally cars. Among them are seven cars entered by MINI Motorsport and X-Raid, and two entered by privateers; the winning #319 JCW Rally is one of the two privateer team cars.

MINI’s strongest competitor in the event is likely to be Toyota, with four Hilux pickup trucks entered. One, piloted by defending champion Nasser Al-Attiyah and his co-driver Mattheiu Baumel, led much of Stage One, but three punctures late on the stage set the car back and it finished fourth. Fernando Alonso, running his first Dakar, is in one of the Toyotas; he finished eleventh on Stage One.

Before the event X-raid’s Quandt said, “After many years in South America, the rally will not only be taking place in a completely new region in 2020, but will also be going back to its roots. Long special stages, a lot of kilometers, and many new experiences await us in Saudi Arabia. It will be a difficult Dakar, at which our MINI cars will hopefully be able to demonstrate their reliability. In total, we are looking after nine MINIs. The goal is to get them all to the finish. To achieve more than that, you always need a little luck at the Dakar—and, of course, to drive cleanly and quickly. In Carlos and Stéphane, we have two drivers who not only have a lot of experience, but are also very familiar with the MINI JCW Buggy. As such, we should be well equipped to take on the challenges that await us. The same goes for the MINI JCW Buggy, which we have continuously developed and tested over the course of the season, however, last year’s winner Nasser Al-Attiyah remains the man to beat. We are looking forward to an exciting race, in which we will only know the winner at the very end, as even the final stage is a real test.”

The 2020 Dakar Rally includes twelve stages run from January 5 to 17. The route covers about 7,500 kilometers, including about 5,000 run against the clock. More details on the rally are available on the Dakar site. Daily TV summaries will appear on the NBC Sports Network.

The first Paris-Dakar rally was run in 1977. The event moved to South America in 2009, where it was run in a number of countries, including Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru. The entire rally was run in Peru in 2019.—Brian Morgan

[Photo via X-Raid.]

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