The Dakar Rally will kick off early this week in the Peruvian desert with its most unusual format ever.
This year's contest includes a relatively short 10 legs to be run starting Monday mostly over sand and dunes and in just one country - Peru - where the drivers and riders will face one of the world's most difficult and hard-to-cross deserts.
From Jan. 7-17, the racing teams in the 100 percent Peruvian Dakar will make a tour of the country's coastal desert extending from the Andes mountain range to the Pacific along a route that will begin and end in Lima, with stops in the cities of Pisco, San Juan de Marcona, Arequipa, Moquegua and Tacna, the last one located on the border with Chile.
At the commencement ceremony being held on Sunday on the beaches of Lima, the 534 drivers, riders and mechanics will parade aboard 337 vehicles, including 138 motorcycles, 96 automobiles, 41 trucks, 33 all-terrain vehicles and 29 quads.
The route will extend for more than 5,000 kilometers (3,100 miles), of which 60 percent will be timed, a feared scenario among the participants because last year it left several favorites - including Spain's Joan "Nani" Roma and France's Sebastien Loeb - out of the running with just five days of competition in Peru.
This time, however, the race will run for 10 days in the South American country.
Over soft sand and steep dunes, the intensity of the course and its difficulties will make up for the shorter duration and no driver is guaranteed victory until they cross the finish line.
"I think it's going to be stressful with so many dunes. Nobody's going to be sure of winning until the end," Spanish driver Carlos Sainz, the reigning Dakar auto champ, told EFE on Saturday.
The 56-year-old Madrid native is returning to the Rally he won in both 2010 and 2018 to compete for the 12th time, defend his title and seek a third triumph to burnish his standing even more behind the wheel of the Mini buggy he debuted last year and which in recent months he has helped to upgrade with French champions Stephane Peterhansel and Cyril Despres, who were teammates when he was with Peugeot and who once again will be his main rivals.
This Dakar Rally will also have greater female participation than ever before, with 17 women competing, including Spain's Sara Garcia and Peru's Gianna Velarde in motorcycles, as well as Paraguay's Andrea Lafarja in automobiles.