Happy New Year!
For the past three days, excitement levels have been at fever pitch in Asunción, the capital of Paraguay. Not far from Silvio Pettirossi International Airport, the South American Football Confederation’s impressive HQ is playing host to scrutineering checks and the event’s media centre.
This is the main hub for everybody involved in the rally (competitors, service crews and those reporting on the event...), which equates to more than 3,000 people, creating a steady stream arriving to finalise any remaining administrative formalities and pick up their obligatory accreditation.
The race and assistance vehicles are being checked in air base hangars on the edge of the city, next to which, a bivouac has been set up in a muddy field. Parc ferme, the rally village and the starting ramp are all to be found in the city centre, on the banks of the Rio Paraguay.
Muy Noble y Leal Ciudad de Nuestra Señora Santa María de la Asunción (the full name of the Paraguayan capital, home to more than two million) is hosting the Dakar Rally for the first time, and the buzz is palpable all around its bustling and colourful colonial-style centre. Notwithstanding stifling temperatures in excess of 35°C in the shade and stormy skies overhead, Paraguayans have clearly decided to celebrate all weekend long to mark both the advent of the new year and the 2017 Dakar.
For competitors, the final build-up to the event was low-key and very civilised. The 88 members of Team Peugeot-Total elected to dine quietly in their hotel, like their Mini X-Raid counterparts. It should be noted that there is a full schedule today (January 1) with the remaining checks to be carried out, various briefings and the starting ceremony mid-afternoon. All the best!