Spanish driver Oscar Fuertes, with Ssangyong, is going into his second Dakar Rally convinced that this one will be tougher than last year, despite the fact that it's being held in just one country and has just 10 legs, because the dunes in Peru's desert "are hell."
"The rally here is focused and we're not going through the most difficult spots we went through last year just once, but several times," said Fuertes in an interview with Agencia EFE along with his co-driver Diego Vallejo.
"I consider myself an expert in the rally and cross country world and Peru's dunes are nothing like in Morocco or Dubai in terms of the difficulty, the surface and the softness of the sand," he said.
The Madrid native, who was the best rookie driver in last year's Dakar Rally, said that this year will be tougher "because there will be more hours in the car each day and it's easier for night to fall on you or for an insurmountable problem" to crop up.
His aim will be to improve his performance from his 32nd place spot in 2018, where he achieved his mission of completing the rally with a Ssangyong Tivoli DKR on the return of the South Korean brand to Dakar, from which it had been absent since 1994.
This time, Fuertes will be driving a Ssangyong Rexton DKR, a rear-wheel-drive gasoline-powered buggy with 450 horsepower, better aerodynamics and weight distribution, as well as weighing 200 kilograms (440 pounds) less and thus using 40 percent less fuel than the 70 liters per 100 km last year's vehicle required.
"Having a car doesn't mean success. We'll see if we can be at the level of the material we've got. Not only the car, but the competition, teams and spare parts. We think we're more competitive and so we have to prove it," Fuertes said.
The Spaniard said he was lucky to be able to have Vallejo as his co-pilot once again, calling him "the key to success last year."
"I've got the best co-pilot I could have. I hope to be up at Diego's level. Last year, he made no mistakes. Not only did he navigate perfectly, but he helped me manage the race, which for me was a lot of pressure, and he did it fantastically. This year, I tricked him into it again and I hope to do so for many more years," he joked.
"If Fernando Alonso is here, I hope he doesn't rob me. Give me another year," said Fuertes, referring to the rumors that the two-time Spanish Formula 1 racing champ wants to compete in the 2020 rally.
Vallejo, meanwhile, likes to compare the job of co-pilot to that of a soccer goaltender, saying that they are not those who win the games but they can certainly lose them with the tiniest error, but he added that Fuertes "is an exceptional colleague, a very intelligent person who last year knew how to handle the race very well."
"He made my work very easy. We became great friends after being stuck inside (the car) for so many days. I hope it will be that way for many more years," said Vallejo, a native of the northwestern Spanish region of Galicia who will be competing in his fourth Dakar Rally.