Spain’s Marc Coma, defending the motorcycle title he won last year, got the 2015 Dakar Rally underway in Buenos Aires on Sunday morning.
The KTM team leader set off on the gruelling 9,000 kilometres trek through Argentina, Chile and Bolivia two mintes ahead of his main rival, countryman Joan Narreda Bort on a Honda, with Yamaha leader Olivier Pain of France next to set off a further two minutes adrift.
The first stage covers 838 kilometres to the town of Villa Carlos Paz with just 175 kilometres of timed sections.
Once all the motorcyle and quad entries had left it would be the turn of the cars with last year’s winner Nani Roma of the first to go in his Mini.
The Spaniard will be followed three minutes later by 2011 winner Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar, also in a Mini, with 11-time former champion Stephane Peterhansel next up six minues after Roma.
The veteran Frenchman will be driving a Peugeot, who are returning to the Dakar Rally for the first time in 25 years and he will be out to prevent the Minis from completing another clean sweep of the auto podium.
Peterhansel took second place last year for Mini behind then teammate Roma.
Peugeot also have in their lineup 2010 winner Carlos Sainz, a two-time world rally champion from Spain who will be racing for his third team in the rally.
Peugeot won the Dakar for four successive years from 1987-1990 when it was still staged in Africa before pulling out.
This year’s event, the seventh in South America since its enforced transfer for security reasons from Africa, is the 37th of all time.
The 2014 race takes the Dakar caravan from the Atacama, the driest spot on the planet, to the Iquique dunes and crossing the Andes at the highest point on Argentina’s Route 40, the 4,970m mountain pass of Abra del Acay.
In all, there will be 4,600km of special stages including a 781km time trial from the Bolivian city of Uyuni to Chile’s Pacific Coast.
The rally will finish back in in Buenos Aires on January 17 with four category winners – cars, motorbikes, quads and trucks.