14 reasons why it's not just about F1 in 2014
The F1 season has kicked off, but there's lots more motorsport happening this year to get excited about...
Posted: 16 Mar 2014
5. Carlos Sainz drove this Buggy in the Dakar
The Dakar Rally happens a long way away. Not even anywhere near Dakar any more. But it involves machines that look like this one, rampaging across deserts and mountains, and for that reason alone, you should care. OK, you're already too late to care about this year's event, which ran for 6,000 miles and the first two weeks of the year through Argentina, Bolivia and Chile, but it's the spectacle more than the result that matters.
Last month, we drove Stéphane Peterhansel's Mini, which has sensible 4WD and a sensible diesel. Carlos Sainz's SMG buggy has a spec list that sounds more supercar than family SUV: mid-engined, rear drive, V8 power. Chevy V8, to be exact, with around 420bhp and 490lb ft of torque. So while the Mini has the advantage on the Dakar's soft sand stages, when it comes to pure speed across rough terrain, this French-built buggy rules - it's grudgingly admitted by the rest of the field to be the fastest thing out there.
Massive wheel travel, open-pipe V8 soundtrack, stunning South American scenery - no wonder that globally the Dakar rally has the second biggest motorsport audience after F1. Bigger than NASCAR, bigger than WRC, bigger than MotoGP.
On board, it's just ex-WRC champ Sainz, together with co-driver Timo Gottschalk, tackling arguably the world's greatest endurance race with 430 other competitors, not only in cars, but trucks, bikes and even quads. About 30 per cent of them won't make the finish.
As with many forms of motorsport, the pressures of the race's environment and geography have given rise to bespoke design, the result being outlandish machines capable of stunning feats of mountain-descending, dune-surfing and rock-crawling, and that alone demands that the best way of seeing off your New Year hangover is with a dose of the Dakar.