Road section, 377 km
The Dakar will be respecting the tradition of the first editions, which systematically started on 1st January at place de la Concorde in Paris. This time, the competitors will indeed be passing an obelisk, yet it is the one on the Avenue of 9th July in Buenos Aires, before heading for Victoria, along a road section. The stop-watches will not be ticking for this day of meeting the Argentinean crowds. However, after this first section of the route, the competitors will be setting up for the night in the bivouac.
Most of the journey will have been made the day before, but the road section to the starting line of the first special stage is still long. Once the competitors have got down to the nitty-gritty, their engines will start to heat up along a very quick portion. They will need to be more and more technically proficient on a route that then becomes mountainous. In order to limit the amount of overtaking on narrow tracks, a special route has been drawn up for bikes and quads in the middle of the stage.
For this stage entirely covering new ground, the competitors’ compass bearings will be set to the north, leading the rally into a backdrop of forest which will remind some observers of bush landscapes. During part of the day, the bikes and quads will again be separated from the cars and trucks. The acrobats on two wheels will have a field day on an old track where jumps are plentiful and sometimes spectacular. In the cockpits of the cars, the drivers can also expect a bumpy ride: endless hops and bounds as well as blind corners will be on the menu.
Tuesday, 4th January > Leg 3: San Miguel de Tucuman - San Salvador de Jujuy
To reach Jujuy, the special stage has been split into two parts, separated by a neutralised section. On the first part, the bikers will again be racing on their own track, plunging into the desert canyons where the red of the sand and cliffs is the dominant colour. There is a striking contrast with the second timed portion: the race moves to earthen tracks and the vehicles will disappear into thick green forest. The trucks have been excused from this challenge, deemed too dangerous for the windscreens which are at the same level as tree branches.
Road section, 554 km
Special, 207 km
The Dakar leaves Argentina provisionally to cross the Andes mountain range via the Paso de Jama pass. To reach this point, the climb will start during the night. Once they have crossed the border, the crews will ascend to an altitude of 4,800 metres, i.e. the same height as Mont-Blanc, without crampons or ice-picks! In sporting terms, the arrival in Chile also heralds the entrance to the Atacama Desert and the first off-track racing of the rally. The start of the relatively short special stage will take place at 3,300 metres. At this point, the vehicles will have to handle stony terrain as the dunes approach.
Road section, 36 km
Special, 423 km
Full speed ahead! On this complete special, the riders and drivers will have to deal with a variety of terrains which each demand a special type of driving or riding. After a slow start on rocky, bad tracks, the crossing of a “salar” will also bring the average speed down: this section measuring just a handful of kilometres will keep the riders and drivers busy for about one hour. However, the day’s finish will take place on wide open off-track terrain over around one hundred kilometres. The festival of dunes is rounded off by the descent to Iquique, which promises a whole bag of thrills to all thrill-seekers. Opposite the sea, the competitors will descend a 2.3-km slope, at an average gradient of 32 %!
Road section, 265 km
Special, 456 km
The exploration of the Atacama Desert this year brings the Dakar participants to Arica, the last town before the Peruvian border. For this large slice of desert before the rest day, the menu is full of dunes, whose sizes increase as the day passes by. But throughout the special stage, the riders and drivers will experience an alternation of sensations. After surfing on the dunes, most of them will get to grips with the unavoidable zones of fesh-fesh, or “guadal” as they are known in this part of the world. For the section of slaloming between dust and dry grass, patience is the competitors’ best ally.
The competitors will get back to business with the longest special stage of the rally, which marks the start of a very selective sequence. Two timed sections will be on the menu, with a section of two halves for the morning. The bikers will have to tackle an endurance type route lasting for around forty kilometres. Even the most physically fit will be exhausted by this excursion through the canyons. The finish of this first portion will take place on the ocean’s shores, as the vehicles dive down from the dunes along an especially steep slope towards the finish. The tracks of the second section are quicker and the riders and drivers will no doubt cross the finishing line of the special stage to applause at the racing track.
Road section, 268 km
Special, 508 km
The three different phases of the day are likely to give rise to difficulties that will have a knock on effect. The utmost care is therefore recommended for handling the subtleties of navigation at the start of the special stage. In the immense open spaces of Chile, the competitors will have to “jump” from valley to valley: landmarks are rare and it is easy to get confused. Making up any time lost will be a dangerous task on the old mine tracks in the middle of the day’s route. Most importantly, a long sandy zone is located at the end of the stage. It will require a very clear head, so it is better to tackle it by day-light rather than with headlights on.
Link, 35 km
Special, 235 km
If the mileage for the day’s proceedings is taken in isolation, the Copiapo-Copiapo loop could pass for a quiet stroll in the desert. Nonetheless it may happen that for many the outcome of the rally could go a long way to being decided in the majestic dunes that dominate this stage. In some places, the depth of the dips formed by the mountains of sand could condemn those who wander astray in them to an endless series of manoeuvres. During this day full of traps, there is a lot to lose… but also much to be won for those who are experts at crossing dunes. The most elementary advice on deflating tyres is probably the most valuable to follow. To add further spice to this stage, the bikers will set off in a grouped start, in rows of ten for the leading riders then in rows of 20.
Road section, 686 km
Special, 176 km
The competitors will once again become mountaineers to cross the Andes mountain range. They should also make sure to take a camera to immortalise their journey along the road section on route 60, after crossing the border at the Paso San Francisco pass. After these moments of freshness and relaxation, the riders and drivers should expect heat shock. During this season, it is always very hot in the white dunes of Fiambala. The visit will be shorter than in previous years, but after ten days of racing, this section can in particular prove to be decisive for amateurs who start to show signs of tiredness.
Road section, 164 km
Special, 622 km
The country remains the same, but the competitors will genuinely have the impression of entering a new land. The foothills of the Andes sometimes take on a far west appearance, and this is indeed the case for the fabulous canyons in the first timed sector. A little tune by Ennio Morricone would be a perfect sound-track to the sandier backdrop of the second portion, where the competitors will navigate between fairy chimneys. In spite of appearances, it is not a cinema setting: the competitors will have to remain focused and on form for more than 600 kilometres to conserve the benefits of the efforts they have made up to this point.
The final battle for the title will take place in broad day-light for the trucks, which will have a head start, exceptionally kicking off proceedings for this stage. For the rest, the length of this penultimate stage requires caution, especially over the first still sandy 100 kilometres. Since the gaps are sometimes tiny between the quickest drivers and riders, a lot can still change at this stage of the race.
Link, 645 km
Special, 181 km
This is a stage for relaxing for most of the competitors who will take starter’s orders in Cordoba. There may be the chance of stealing one or two places for some, or a long route to overcome with a sore wrist or knee for others. These are all good reasons for remaining highly concentrated. The final short and quick special stage of the Dakar 2011 will finish at the Baradero racing track where a great show and thrills are guaranteed.