RUGGED: Drivers Carlos Sainz, right, of Spain and Nasser al-Attiyah of Qatar attend the unveiling of the 2013 Dakar Rally route through Peru, Argentina and Chile, in Paris on Thursday. Picture: REUTERS
RUGGED: Drivers Carlos Sainz, right, of Spain and Nasser al-Attiyah of Qatar attend the unveiling of the 2013 Dakar Rally route through Peru, Argentina and Chile, in Paris on Thursday. Picture: REUTERS

PARIS — The 34th Dakar Rally, the fifth version to be held in Latin America, features a largely Pacific coast route, race organiser Etienne Lavigne announced on Wednesday.

The rally starts on January 5 in the Peruvian capital, Lima, and ends on January 20 in Santiago.

The mythical endurance race, which originated in 1978 when it was run from Paris to Dakar in Senegal, will this year begin with a total of 459 vehicles — cars, trucks, motorcycles and quads — and cover 8,400km to the finish line in the capital of Chile.

Frenchman Stephen Peterhansel defends his title in the car category but faces a stiff challenge from former champions Nasser al-Attiyah of Qatar and Spanish driver Carlos Sainz, who won the race in 2011 and 2010 respectively.

The route winds along the Pacific coast before two diversions into mainland Argentina and some rugged roads in the Andes mountains featuring 14 stages across three countries.

The 50-year-old Sainz, who won the world rally title in 1990 and 1992, is one of the main threats to Peterhansel’s title along with the Qatari driver, who retired from the race last year with a spate of mechanical problems but will be back in January.

"His return gives me great pleasure but also constitutes an enormous threat for me," said the Frenchman, who will drive a BMW Mini.

"This 2013 edition that has a confrontation between three former winners will give an exciting look to the race for the fans and will be very nerve-wracking," said Peterhansel.

The motorcycle category sees the return of the Honda team, absent since 1992, and is set to feature another intense rivalry between defending champion Cyril Despres of France and Spaniard Marc Coma, who have shared the past seven titles and are the outright favourites.

The course begins for the first time on the desert sands south of Lima before gradually becoming more difficult as it enters Argentinian soil and a series of dangerous stages through valleys and canyons.

"It is far from a country drive along the sea between Lima and Santiago and the difficult sections set up the race for a thrilling battle," Lavigne said.

The 2012 edition began with 443 vehicles, which will now increase to 459.

Sapa-AFP