318 vehicles (144 motorcycles, 37 quads, 87 cars including 10 SSVs, and 50 trucks) and a total of 501 competitors were cleared to start the 39th edition of the Dakar at the end of the technical and administrative scrutineering.
The drivers, riders and crews will go head-to-head tomorrow in the rally's only Paraguayan special, a 38.5 km stage which will provide the first snapshot of where everyone stands.
Before that, the adventurers will feel the warmth of tens of thousands of fans during the presentation ceremony along the Paraguay river this evening.
There are no hangovers at the Dakar camp! The New Year celebrations were clearly a quiet affair, at least for those competitors who had an early appointment at Ñu Guazú Air Base, which has hosted the technical scrutineering for the last three days. The Yamaha riders were among the last to undergo the checks and are determined to end KTM's 15-year hegemony. That is, at least, what Hélder Rodrigues hopes. Last year's fifth-placed rider believes that "the team is much stronger this year". The Portuguese refers mainly to the potential of Adrien Van Beveren, who finished sixth in his debut but has kept his feet firmly on the ground: "I'm still a novice", says the three-time winner of the Enduro du Touquet humbly. The other positive surprise of the 2016 Dakar, Mikko Hirvonen, is just as modest, knowing that the characteristics of the 2017 course do not work in his favour: "It looks like there'll be more off-track sections than on last year's course, which suited me to a tee. It'll be much harder to achieve such a great result [4th]." The Finn is spearheading the X-Raid team along with "Orly" Terranova and Yazeed Al-Rajhi, hoping to put a Mini back on the top step of the final podium...
With the grand finale still two weeks away, Hirvonen and the rest of the field are ready to live the excitement of a start podium which promises to turn the heat on! Although temperatures remain high in Asunción, Paraguay's passion for motor sports is what will really make the atmosphere on the banks of the Paraguay river caliente. The presentation ceremony, which will take place near the presidential palace, is expected to attract massive crowds of fans out in force to cheer the competitors on. They will need lots of cheering if they are to last the 9,000 km trek to Buenos Aires. The race will get under way with a 38 km timed special tomorrow morning... followed by a 415 km connection to Resistencia, Argentina. Once at the border crossing, the most sentimental among them will cast a final glance at the flag of Paraguay, while the most well-informed will point out that it is the only national flag in the world whose reverse differs from the obverse: the coat of arms on one side, and the motto Paz y Justicia on the other.