Mini is entering their new John Cooper Works Buggy in the gruelling 5000km 2019 Dakar Rally with veteran rally ace Carlos Sainz behind the wheel of one of the cars.
Here is what he had to say about the race and the switch from AWD to 2WD and the prospect of racing on his least favourite surface.
This will be your first Dakar with MINI John Cooper Works Buggy. How much testing have you done so far?
“The first contact with the car was May to June, and then we followed this up with a few more test days in Africa. The biggest test was competing at Rallye du Maroc.”
How has this testing shaped the Buggy for Dakar?
“Well, I believe it has all been very positive. We have moved forward a lot. Meetings with the team helped us to improve areas with small changes and, compared to the car last year; it is entirely different regarding suspension, balance, brakes and weight.
It has been a significant programme really, but we are well prepared. For sure you always have the feeling you can do more, but in the time we had, we made good progress.”
Not only a new vehicle but also working with a new team in X-raid?
“New car, new team, new faces… but I felt very comfortable from the first day. It has all been straightforward from the start of testing, and everyone is getting along. This includes my team colleagues because we have worked together in previous years.
Obviously, it is a new car, so reliability is something I will think about when driving and be a little cautious at the start.”
What is the secret to Dakar success: performance, chassis, co-driver, other?
“I think it is a mixture of things; a little piece of this, a small bit of that. You have to be fast during the race, but at the same time you need reliability – you can lead the race for one, two hours but one problem can lose you the race.
Otherwise, you need speed, reliability, a good co-driver and a good team waiting for you after each race. The right attitude also helps. You cannot afford to go crazy if everything is not going exactly the way you want.
Patience is probably one of the biggest secrets; this is not always achievable when it is required.”
Desert sand will feature quite heavily at Dakar 2019. Is this a surface you prefer?
“My background is in rally, so I am more confident on the road and tracks. Saying that, I won Dakar last year, so I guess I’m now more open to every situation and not too worried about sand, dunes and the openness.”
After many years of WRC, why the jump to cross-country rally?
“After 2004/2005, I decided to retire. Then I thought to myself, why not try this discipline? I didn’t know if I would like it or not but I can now say I do like cross-country rallying. It is a challenge, and life without challenges is boring.
One of the great things about Dakar is the challenge; you are up against it physically and the reliability. When you still feel competitive and able to win then the challenge will always be there. So why stop when you are enjoying yourself? I am still motivated to succeed.”
If you were not competing at world-class cross-country rally, what would you do instead?
“As I said before, being challenged is part of my life. I’m not the sort of person to wake up and do nothing. I have a business here at home, and the Dakar also plays an integral part of my life. There is always something to do.”
You have many supporters and fans that are glad you are still competing but does your body agree that you should keep racing?
“Ha! There are a few aches sometimes, but that is just the body’s memory. It is not a problem.”
Rally Dakar gets underway this weekend in Peru.