Paris, France: The 2019 Paris-Dakar Rally will not be a "cut price" edition in spite of being hosted for the first time by a single country, race director Etienne Lavigne told AFP on Tuesday.
Since the race switched for security reasons in 2009 from its original route from Paris to the Senegalese capital Dakar, it has enjoyed multiple hosts in South America.
But this year Argentina, Chile and Bolivia all pulled out for reasons of austerity, leaving Peru as the sole host of the 41st edition.
"It will not be a discount Dakar," race director Etienne Lavigne told AFP at the unveiling of the course in Paris on Tuesday.
"This is an extraordinary edition. It is the first time that the Dakar will take place in a single country.
"This year, we will have to face difficult terrain that requires very good physical preparation. The dunes, the sand, are very challenging environments."
The change is reflected in the reduction of the rally from 9,000 kilometres over 14 stages in 2018 -- when it went through Peru, Argentina and Bolivia -- to 5,000 kilometres across 10 stages in 2019.
According to Lavigne, however, it will still present a touch challenge to the drivers and riders because it is predominantly across sand.
"With the sand, we dive into the heart of the DNA of the Dakar," says Lavigne.
"The origins, the mythology of the Dakar is built around the Sahara, its dunes, its great stretches of sand. Here, we are at the heart of the matter."
The shorter course is unlikely to put off the competition with all the big names of the recent past such as multiple winners Carlos Sainz, Stephane Peterhansel and Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah, among the 334 vehicles - cars, motorbikes, quad bikes, SxS (buggies) and trucks - to have registered for the start on January 6.
Nine-time World Rally champion Sebastien Loeb also returns for the fourth time, hoping to become the first privateer to win the Dakar Rally since Jean-Louis Schlesser back in 2000.
"They raise the standard of competition, they make it even more demanding," says Lavigne.
"The more people, the stronger it is in terms of competition and uncertainty. They all have strengths, weak points that they will have to manage.
"They will have to come to grips with this, and over ten days there are many genuine contenders for victory."
The race ends in Lima on January 17.