Dakar kicks off 2012 Castrol EDGE Rankings
The motorsport calendar returns with a vengeance at the start of 2012, as the Dakar Rally gets into full swing in the dunes and ravines of South America.
173 cars were were confirmed for this year’s running of the Dakar, which was incorporated into the Castrol EDGE Rankings only last year.
First run in 1979 between Paris and Dakar, the Senegalese capital which lends the event its name, the endurance race has become renowned as one of the toughest and most attritional races on the motorsport calendar.
2012 was but a few hours old when the race got underway with a relatively short 57km opening stage.
Leonid Novitskiy took the honours on the opening stage as last year’s winner Nasser Al-Attiyah hit early trouble, losing nine minutes with an oil pressure issue. The opening was marred by a fatality in the motorcycle section as Jorge Boero went into cardiac arrest following a fall 55km in.
Al-Attiyah battled his way back in the second stage, setting the overall fastest time to rise to sixth overall.
Novitskiy slid the other way, dropping 11 minutes on day two, promoting Mini’s Stephane Peterhansel into a lead of more than two minutes – the Hummer of Robby Gordon his closest challenger thus far.
As the field prepares to navigate today’s near-500km stage from San Rafael to San Juan, the result will not only be significant in the overall Dakar standings but also in the Castrol EDGE Rankings.
The effect was felt keenly in the Rankings last year, with Al-Attiyah rising a massive 217 places to 194th on the back of his triumph.
Robby Gordon also made progress, gaining 11 spots to sit 301st, while occasional WRC driver Erik van Loon leapt an incredible 550 spots to 722nd.
In addition, given that it was the first year the Dakar counted toward the Rankings, a host of drivers gained first time entries – a list that included rally legend Carlos Sainz and 2009 winner Giniel de Villiers.
This year Al-Attiyah remains one of the favourites despite having to move to the Robby Gordon-run Hummer following VW’s withdrawal.
His and Gordon’s main competition will likely come from Mini, with Stephane Peterhansel, Krzysztof Holowczyc and Novitskiy all running well – although de Villiers remains in the mix in his Toyota.
Of the six Al-Attiyah is the highest placed driver in the Castrol EDGE Rankings, coming in at 259th.
He also has the most to lose however, defending the biggest total from Dakar last year.
Gordon lies 522nd, his ranking boosted by his NASCAR Sprint Cup commitments from 2011, while de Villiers, Peterhansel and Holowczyc the other drivers inside the top 1000.
In addition to providing a welcome Rankings boost, Dakar success could see any of the six – or indeed any of the 182-strong field – claim the coveted Castrol EDGE Rankings Performer of the Month title. The accolade was a rarity in 2011 as Sebastian Vettel’s unstinting domination in Formula 1 kept it out of the reach of anyone else for eight straight months.