Aussie Price gets Dakar action under way

ASUNCION: Australian KTM rider and defending champion Toby Price got the 2017 Dakar Rally under way on Monday as competitors set off on a high-octane, high-altitude 8,800km (5,500 mile) continent-crossing trek from Asuncion in Paraguay to Buenos Aires.
The first stage of the two-week rally, which will take participants via Bolivia through unforgiving mountainous terrain, is a 454km run, comprising 38.5km of specials, to Resistencia, in northeastern Argentina.
Price, who has suffered more than two dozen bone breaks in his illustrious career which saw the New South Wales-born rider become the first ever Australian and indeed non-European winner of the race last year, set out at 11.04 am (1404 GMT) ahead of French auto champion Stephane Peterhansel.
Peugeot’s Peterhansel will be out to add to an extraordinary record in the race which comprises six wins apiece in both moto and auto categories
His Peugeot teammate Sebastien Loeb, nine-time rally world champion, embarked upon his own challenge minutes later.
Organisers said a total of 318 vehicles were joining the fray — 144 motos, 87 cars, 37 quads and 50 lorries, though competitors were watching the skies beforehand following days of violent tropical storms in the Paraguayan capital.
Participants swiftly resumed last-minute technical checks after seeing in the New Year ahead of the traditional pre-race briefing Sunday evening.
Riders and drivers will have to negotiate some 4,000km of special stages before reaching Buenos Aires on January 14.
Altitude concerns
Five of the race stages will be held at above 3,500 metres altitude — and participants will get a day off on Sunday to see a little of the Bolivian capital La Paz, the world’s highest capital at 3,600m.
The thin conditions of the region will pose a severe endurance challenge.
“There is a little uncertainty as regards the altitude… I don’t really know how we shall react — drivers, co-drivers, but also assistants and mechanics.
“If you feel a little off one day you could lose everything and that’s true for all drivers, even those who have spent time at altitude and are well prepared,” said Peterhansel, who started off in 1988, when the race still remained true to its African origins.
For Loes, “it’s difficult to make a forecast but certainly the ambition is there, no doubt about that,” he said of his own chances.
For Peterhansel, “it’s very open. I’d say there are six or seven drivers capable of winning — at Peugeot of course but also Toyota, and even Mini, with Mikko Hirvonen coming up on the rails,” following his maiden fourth place showing last year.
 — AFP