COME New Year, Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah will begin his quest for a third Dakar crown.
The ace Qatari, who won his first Dakar in a Volkswagen in 2011 and second in an X-Raid Mini in 2015, will be seeking his third victory in the most gruelling of off-road races in a Toyota Hilux Evo.
Eighty three cars are registered for the rally, to be held in Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay from January 2 to 14.
Nasser will be up against familiar foes such as Frenchman Stephane Peterhansel, who is the defending champion, and his compatriot and Peugeot team-mate Cyril Despres, as well as South African Giniel De Villiers in another Toyota.
Also in the running will be nine-time world rally champion Sebastien Loeb and Carlos Sainz, both in Peugeots, 2014 Dakar champion Nani Roma in a Toyota and Finland’s Mini driver Mikko Hirvonen, who finished fourth on his debut in 2016.
Nasser and his French co-driver Mathieu Baumel had finished second at the 2016 Dakar in a Mini. The duo then switched to Toyota Hilux and have enjoyed a good run, retaining the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies title with victories in Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Italy, Spain, Poland and Morocco.
As they take the Hilux to Dakar, Nasser exuded confidence.
“I’m really so happy to be a part of this team. I’ll do my maximum for the team as we try to win the 2017 Dakar Rally. We started this year with the Hilux and to win the World Cup with this car was fantastic,” said Nasser.
Last year, Nasser had to cut down on his rallies due to his commitments in shooting, but this time he can concentrate fully on his first love.
He remained upbeat about a good start in South America after successful tests in Morocco and South Africa.
“In 2016, we won six races with our Toyota. So I’m really happy with the performance and hope to continue with it in Dakar.
Driving on sand isn’t easy. A driver needs to have a feel for the car because you can get stuck very easily. You can avoid this only if you’ve the experience. You also need to have a very powerful car to not get stuck. This Hilux is definitely the best I’ve driven,” Nasser concluded.