The annual Dakar Rally has been casting some doubt on whether four-wheel drive is really the superior technology for serious off-road racing. Peugeot has exploited regulation incentives for 2WD vehicles to the fullest, taking home back-to-back victories, including a 1-2-3 finish at this year's event. Previously the name to beat, Mini has had to sit by and watch Peugeot's beastly 2WD overshadow it. Now it's experimenting with a rugged 2WD buggy of its own, preparing to run both 2WD and 4WD cars at next year's Dakar. Are Peugeot's days at the top numbered?

Eager to get back to the recent glory days that saw them win four straight Dakars between 2012 and 2015, Mini and Team X-raid are playing Peugeot's game, preparing a rear-wheel-drive John Cooper Works Buggy. The new Buggy will race alongside the all-wheel-drive John Cooper Works Rally that debuted to a sixth-place finish at Dakar 2017. The 2018 Dakar Rally will mark the first time ever Mini and Team X-Raid will run two different drive systems during the same Dakar.

While the JCW Rally looks the part of a Mini that's been ruggedized and liveried for off-road competition, the JCW Buggy looks like a ground-up desert-racing machine. Developed in close cooperation with Mini Design, the purpose-built carbon-Kevlar body covers a tubular steel frame, giving the Buggy a serious approach angle, compact front-end and high-set front fenders. The aero-optimized design also includes some major air intakes around the sides and roof, along with a squared-off rear fender design.

The JCW Buggy is powered by a turbocharged 3.0-liter diesel inline-six that puts out 340 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque. That engine transmits power to the rear wheels through a newly conceived transmission and driveline.

The JCW Buggy may or may not take Dakar by storm, but so far so good. Mini and X-raid say they've been testing it for months over various types of rally-style terrain in the likes of Hungary and Morocco, and it's scored high marks.

"The buggy never had to stop once due to a technical problem, which is really quite remarkable," said X-raid Team Manager Sven Quandt.

The JCW Buggy will be the all-new, unknown quantity for the Mini/X-raid campaign, but the team also has high hopes for the returning JCW Rally. Plans call for a chassis restructuring, more suspension travel and a weight reduction.

"There are tracks and types of terrain where an all-wheel drive has advantages," Quandt commented. "Our car is extremely reliable, and in the past it was the car's reliability that helped us claiming numerous successes."

Mini and X-raid will run a total of seven cars at Dakar 2018. Mikko Hirvonen, Bryce Menzies and Yazeed Al-Rajhi will pilot JCW Buggies, while Orlando Terranova, Jakub Przygonski, Joan "Nani" Roma and Boris Garafulic will man the JCW Rallies.

"It's our goal to make it onto the podium, no matter if the Mini John Cooper Works Buggy or the Mini John Cooper Works Rally makes it," declared Quandt. "There are many variables we can't control, such as the routing, the weather and – of course – a little dose of luck, which is something you definitely need if you want to succeed in the Dakar."

Mini's 2/4 punch will be one of the interesting storylines of Dakar 2018, but the team won't have an easy road back to the top. The returning champs at Peugeot will be back with the latest version of their Dakar conqueror, the wider, meaner 3008DKR Maxi, along with the 3008DKR that swept Top 3 honors in 2017.

The 40th running of the Dakar Rally starts on January 6, 2018 and will carve through Peru, Bolivia and Argentina. The course includes extended desert stages, boulder fields, asphalt stretches and altitudes up to 4,000 m (13,100 ft), ending in Córdoba, Argentina on January 20.

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