A new name dominated the Dakar Rally from start-to-finish this year - MINI. Though the race isn't over yet, the margins are such that MINI will finish with first, second and fourth place later today, and that Frenchman Stéphane Peterhansel will record a record tenth Dakar Rally victory. Though the original MINI built a fine motorsport heritage in league with Formula One constructor John Cooper, MINI's new owner BMW has now really has something to crow about.
Of course, just how much MINI is left in the cars which began life as 121bhp, 118 ib-ft torque, front-wheel drive MINI Clubmans, is debatable, as you can tell from looking at the main photo - that sure is some big MINI.
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The six cylinder, 315 bhp, 516 ib-ft torque, 2993cc variable twin-turbo diesel engine in the car is straight from BMW's X3 30D, the vehicle which has been the base vehicle of X-RAID's last three successive FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rally titles. Indeed, much of this vehicle is based on what was learned in campaigning the BMW X3.
The special frame of the MINI was designed by Büren-based Heggemann Autosport GmbH, and the complete body is constructed of carbon-kevlar. The MINI-shaped body panels of the entire car can be changed inside 30 minutes, giving the race mechanics instant access for the time-critical repair work often necessary in this Formula One of the Desert style racing.
Let's see, there's also a Sadev 6-speed transmission, an Xtrac differential and massive ventilated 320mm AP Racing disk brakes, which are ingeniously watercooled at the rear where adequate ventilation is often difficult to provide under desert racing conditions.
The weight of the MINI racecar, sans fuel, is approximately 1900 kg (4,189 lb), some 550 kg (1,212 lb) heavier than the standard MINI Countryman upon which it is "based".
A win however, is a win, and MINI is continuing to build a motorsport heritage for the marque.
While MINI may not have had a lot of major international victories to boast about (the Monte Carlo Rally three times and robbed of a fourth), the single make MINI was one of the cheapest forms of motorsport available for many decades across the world, and it enabled many would-be racers to try their hand - Niki Lauda, Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, John Surtees, Jochen Rindt, and James Hunt all had their first race in a MINI.
To the constructors of the race winning vehicles, Magna Steyr and X Raid, go our heartiest congratulations, but the most special of all congratulations have to go to Peterhansel who has now won the world's toughest race ten times - riding Yamaha motorcycles in 1991, 92, 93, 95, 97, and 98, and Mitsubishi Pajeros in 2004, 2005 and 2006.
Before moving to full-time desert racing, he was also a two-time World Enduro Champion riding off-road motorcycles.
Perhaps the biggest upset, given that the winner of the last three consecutive Dakar rallies has been Volkswagen's Toureg Race Car, and the German giant did not contest this year, was the performance of the Dutch Iveco Team which took first and second place in the truck section, ending a three year winning run for Russian heavy-duty truck manufacturer Kamaz.
Indeed, Kamaz has won eight of the last ten Dakar Rally's in the truck segment, and along with another of the former Eastern Block's finest, Tatra, have dominated the event for two decades, winning 16 of the last 19 events.
In breaking through the Iron Curtain, the Dutch Petronas Iveco De Rooy Team scored a one-two, and enabled Gerard de Rooy to emulate his father's success in winning the 1987 Paris-Algiers-Dakar Rally truck section in a MAN.
For KTM, it was business as usual, with the team's 12th consecutive win in the motorcycle section - the last time a KTM didn't win Dakar was just a few days after the turn of the millennium.
The biggest problem any rivals have in breaking the KTM stranglehold, is that to beat the Austrian ready-to-race outfit, you do need to build a significantly better bike, because it has the two fastest desert riders in the world on its books, and if something befalls one, the other is always there to take the win.
That two such immense rivals can exist in the same team must baffle MotoGP Race Chiefs, but Coma and Cyril Depres have won the last seven events between them, and it's unlikely a rival will emerge any time soon who has the mettle to beat the duo.
Another special mention for the 2012 race should go to Nani Roma, the driver who finished second in the MINI. Roma is a name many marathon rally fans will already know as he won the motorcycle section on a KTM back in 2004, the last time anyone finished ahead of both Coma and Depres in a Dakar event. That's Nani during his 2004 win below, when he was a teammate of Depres.
Roma feels that this year he came of age as a rally driver and can go on to win from here, perhaps emulating Peterhansel and Hubert Auriol (1983 BMW motorcycle win in Paris-Algiers-Dakar and 1992 Mitsubishi Pajero win in Paris-Sirte-Capetown Dakar Rally) in winning the Dakar both in a car and on a motorcycle.
Last but not least, a very special mention to Great Wall Motors, a Chinese company that is going where no Chinese company has gone before it - straight up against the best in a brutal sport - and making admirable progress. The team entered the rally for the last two years, but this year progressed to seventh outright - an outstanding result for such an inexperienced team led by Portuguese driver Carlos Sousa.
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