D-1: the heavyweights step into the ring

541 competitors and 334 vehicles —137 motorbikes, 26 quads, 130 cars (including 30 S×S) and 41 trucks— were cleared to start the 41st edition of the Dakar at the end of the technical and administrative scrutineering. Before the start of the race, the drivers, riders and crews will get a big send-off from the fans during the podium ceremony in Lima. The celebration will take place on Magdalena beach, where over 100,000 visitors flocked to enjoy a wide range of activities in the Feria Dakar over the last three days. The first round comes tomorrow with a sand-packed 84 km course in the Pisco region. Let the dune festival begin!Contenders for the Dakar titles have spent months focusing on their objective. However, the last few days before the race have been the ideal time to sit back and relax… or even go on holiday! Stéphane Peterhansel, for example, took the opportunity to go on a romantic break in Machu Picchu with his wife, Andrea, who will be racing in a Side by Side in her Dakar comeback. Nasser Al-Attiyah, on the other hand, embarked on a gastronomic adventure and even learned to make ceviche with one of the most famous chefs in Lima. Sébastien Loeb, always looking for a shot of adrenaline, capped his training with a challenge at the wheel of his Peugeot 3008… going head-to-head with an aeroplane. Yet the time has come for everyone to get down to business. The anticipated duel between Mini and Toyota, with the nine-time world rally champion and his Peugeot trying to fish in troubled waters, was the talk of the town on Las Palmas Air Base. For now, the protagonists are content to reject the pressure that comes with being favourite. In terms of reliability, we could have done with more time to fine-tune some little pieces. We're talking details here, but it could have an impact, says Peter about his buggy, while Nasser Al-Attiyah, widely acclaimed as the best dune surfer in the world, tries to play down expectations by stressing that we need to be really focused and not lose any time with the navigation.The favourites to win the motorbike race are also hedging their bets. Especially Toby Price, who still feels a little bit of pain after breaking his right scaphoid while training a few weeks ago. The Australian winner of the 2016 race is far from the only card KTM has to play in its effort to extend its dominance in the rally, with Sam Sunderland and Matthias Walkner feeling as strong as when they claimed the last two editions. However, they are acutely aware of the threat from Yamaha's blue motorbikes, whose leader Adrien Van Beveren is widely seen as KTM's main rival. I see it as something positive, says the rider from the Nord department. This is what I've been working for, to try and win. If people think I have what it takes, it means I'm right where I want to be. His impeccable logic brings hope to the Yamaha clan, which is also fielding riders such as Xavier de Soultrait and Franco Caimi. The duel starts tomorrow!