By Sue Mead on location in Argentina
The clock is ticking, and all the racers, organizers, mechanics, support and press for the 2009 edition of the Dakar are going through last-minute preparations to begin the Argentina portion of this famed rally Saturday. All vehicles that will participate in the rally have been numbered and decaled, and they’ve completed their scrutineering at La Rural Exhibition Park, where more than 60,000 spectators were on hand to check out the wide variety of models participating as either race or support conveyances in the 9,578-kilometer run. The event starts and finishes in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and will also travel through Chile.
Many more spectators came to take photos of the assorted race-prepared pickups and vehicles along the broad avenues and streets lining the park. Hundreds of thousands of people were expected to gather along the city’s Avenida 9 de Julio today for a parade of vehicles that will assemble to take their turn on the starting pedestal next to an obelisk in the majestic Plaza de la Republica. Dakar’s organizers are also making plans to accommodate the thousands of spectators expected to line portions of the route and visit the team bivouacs each night, when they are in populated areas.
Pickups are everywhere in Buenos Aires today, and Toyota’s Hilux – bedecked with the route map – has been designated as the official supplier for this year’s rally. The event will include 837 competitors in 500 vehicles, including 217 bikes, 25 quads, 177 cars and 81 trucks. There will also be a wide variety of pickup trucks representing nearly every manufacturer and model type set up to support many of the teams.
Critical to the success of each race team is not only the endurance and physical and mental fitness and expertise of the drivers and co-pilots, but also the mechanical prowess of the race and support vehicles. Each vehicle’s weight also plays a crucial part in a team’s success, especially when related to fuel stops. As a result, pickups are loaded with goods and gear, and mechanical and emergency equipment, using every available inch of real estate in order to make the lengthy trek.
This year’s rally marks the 30th running of this legendary event but the first time the Dakar will travel through South America, experiencing temperatures ranging from more than 100 degrees to below freezing as it crosses the snow-capped Andes and traverses the Atacama, the world’s highest and driest desert.