Defending Dakar Rally champion Nasser Al-Attiyah is confident that the Minis will be able to challenge the pace-setting Peugeots of Sebastien Loeb and Stephane Peterhansel during the sandier stages during the second week of this year’s race.
After a week of stages likened to those found on the World Rally Championship, nine-time WRC champion Loeb tops the time sheets, with Peterhansel two minutes adrift in second place.
Al-Attiyah, meanwhile, is in fourth place some 18 minutes behind Loeb but expects to be able to close the gap during the second week of the race, when more traditional Dakar-style stages will be the order of the day.
“Loeb is very fast, and good on the rally roads. But we’ll see now over the next three days on the navigation side,” the Qatari driver told Motorsport.com.
“Our car is strong, and I’m really good in the sand. Mathieu [Baumel] is a really good navigator, so we will try and do our best next week. It’s very important, I will do my best to put a MINI in the Top 3 and to win Dakar again.
“For me, the first week wasn’t interesting, because it was fast, with no navigation,” he said.
“Last year, it started with normal stages, but the second stages were the really hard stages, with navigation and more sand. That was really nice. But this is the route of 2016; we can’t change it, so we’ll try and have a good result.”
Al-Attiyah isn’t the first driver to be critical of this year’s route, after prominent truck driver Gerard de Rooy labeled this year’s event as a Dakar in name only.
Sporting director Marc Coma, meanwhile, confirmed that the second week of the rally will be far more challenging with traditional Dakar-style roads.