Mini conquers Dakar

16 January 2012
, CarsGuide

...some of the highest and most rugged mountains and temperatures ranging from 50C to freezing.

In the end, the mighty Mini, loosely based on the All4 Countryman, conquered the 2012 Dakar Rally which began on January 1 and finished last Sunday. Five Minis started and incredibly five finished in the top 10, including first and second.

Mini was the favourite before the event with its entries prepared by the successful Frankfurt-based X-Raid company, and a collection of champion drivers, including the victorious Frenchman Stephane Peterhansel who has now won four car titles and six times on a motorcycle.

The Minis cost $1.1m each and, although based on the road going Countryman costing about $40,000-$60,000, they are much higher and wider, with 16-inch wheels and a carbon body. And instead of 1.9-litre four-cylinder engine, they have a three-litre, six-cylinder turbo diesel.

The only standard parts are the lights, windscreen door handles taillights. The rest is pure prototype. VW pulled out this year after winning the past three rallies, including a trifecta last year, paving the way for another manufacturer to take over.

Prior to VW, Mitsubishi dominated from 2001-07 for a combined total of 12 wins over 33 years with the 2008 rally cancelled due to terrorist threats. The following year the event shifted from North Africa to South America where it has retained "the spirit of Dakar" with its rugged terrain.

This year's course was claimed to be the toughest yet with man and machine tackling high temperatures of 50C and stage six cancelled because of persistent snow storms over the Andes.

Entry to this gruelling event is costly with some teams spending millions on car preparation and millions more with back-up crew, trucks and spares.

VW made the most of its expensive victories with substantial advertising campaigns, in particular its promotion of the Amarok pick-up which was merely a back-up vehicle for last year's rally. But don't expect the same from Mini after its win at its second attempt.

BMW Group Australia head of corporate communications Piers Scott points out that the five cars were part of a private team entry, not a factory team.

"Aside from the car, and obvious technical assistance, I don't think there is too much in the way of an official connection to the X-raid team, besides the fact that it is led by Sven Quandt, who obviously is a son of Herbert Quandt," he said.

(Quandt was a German industrialist lauded for turning BMW from bankruptcy to profit.) "Therefore, I don't think there are any plans to shout about it too loudly, but it certainly sets the tone nicely for Mini's increasing involvement in motorsport."


Mini was pushed throughout this year's rally by the Hummers of Nascar legend Robby Gordon and last year's winner Nasser Al-Attiyah, and single private entry of 2009 winner Giniel De Villiers in a Toyota Hi-Lux.

While the big-money Mini entry caught all the headlines, the De Villiers entry gave Toyota a surprising and much-needed boost after a tough 2011 when it slipped from the world's top sellers in the wake of the tsunami in Japan and floods in Thailand.

He finished third behind the Minis, even though his machine was made to comply with next year's Dakar engine specifications. 

Another surprisingly successful entry was the Great Wall SUV driven Portugal's Carlos Souza, who has raced for Mitsubishi, Nissan and Volkswagen. Over a 10-year period, except for a disappointing 2010 rally, Souza has never finished outside the top 10, with a best of fourth in 2003.

He finished an amazing seventh and 4.5 hours behind. The result gives the Chinese manufacturer something to smile about after the disappointing two-star safety rating it scored in the Australia New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) last year for its utilities.

Dakar officials this year limited the entries to 171 cars, 185 bikes, 33 quad bikes and 76 trucks. However, only 97 motorcycles, 12 quads, 78 cars and 60 trucks made it to the finishing line. Among those was Team Latvia's OSCar eO, the event's first electric vehicle.

The OSCar eO has an "engine" bay filled with 52.5kWh of batteries and is powered by an electric motor nominally rated at 210kW with a top speed of 140km/h and range of 800km. Like GM's Volt, which will be available for sale in Australia later this year as a Holden, the OSCar eO has a back-up petrol generator that charges the batteries to extend the electric vehicle's range.

In this case it's a 3.5-litre V6 Nissan engine. The vehicle finished 77th or second last, but at least it finished, which is always difficult in the world's toughest motorsport event. Expect to see more electrics vehicles competing in future.

The Koreans starred, the Japanese mounted a comeback, and One Ford hit the headlines with an extended family of Focus-based newcomers that it is certain to make a big hit in Australia. But it was one car and the commitment of its company chief that made the most impact as America fought back on the opening day of the 2011 North American International Motor Show.

The bike category was an arm wrestle between KTM teammates Cyril Despres of France and Marc Coma of Spain with three wins each. They exchanged lead at almost every stage and when Despres was stuck in the mud late in the rally it looked like Coma's fourth.

However, the officials deleted the time delay because other riders were diverted from the obstacle and it came down to a tight finish with Despres the victor. Argentine brothers Alejandro and Marcos Patronelli won the quad section on their Yamahas, while Dutch teams took out the top two truck positions in Ivecos.


1 Peterhansel (Fra) Cottret (Fra) Mini
2 Roma (Spain) Perin (Fra) Mini
3 De Villiers (S Af), Von Zitzewitz (Ger) Toyota
4 Novitskiy (Rus) Schulz (Ger) Mini
5 Gordon (USA) Campbell (USA) Hummer
6 Alvarez (Arg) Graue (Arg) Toyota
7 Sousa (Por) Garcin (Fra) Great Wall
8 Leal Dos Santos (Por) Fiuza (Por) Mini
9 Ten Brinke (Hol) Baumel (Fra) Mitsubishi
10 Holowczyc (Pol) Fortin (Bel) Mini

1 Despres (Fra) KTM
2 Coma (Spa) KTM
3 Rodrigues (Por) Yamaha

1 Patronelli (Arg) Yamaha
2 Patronelli (Arg) Yamaha
3 Maffei (Arg) Yamaha

1 De Rooy (Hol) Iveco
2 Stacey (Hol) Iveco
3 Ardavichus (Kaz) Kamaz