Nissan unveiled its three car team that it hopes will bring it success on one of the world’s toughest motorsport challenges - the Dakar 2005 - at the Automobile Club de France in Paris today, and leading the Nissan Rally Raid Team’s challenge will be Britain’s Colin McRae.
The 35-year old Scottish driver has been instrumental in the test and development of the new Nissan Pickup 2005 this year - which is 80% different to the Pickup in which he made his Dakar Rally debut in almost 12 months ago. On his first Dakar Rally, McRae (the 1995 World Rally Champion) set fastest time on two desert stages and has since then tested the Pickup in Morocco and Tunisia and contested the UAE Desert Challenge in Dubai. Together with his new co-driver Tina Thorner (Sweden), McRae drove the Pickup 2005 to victory on its debut event, the Baja Portalegre in October, giving the team great confidence in its attempt to finish on the podium on the Dakar 2005.
McRae’s team-mates will be the four-times Dakar winner and 1981 World Rally Champion Ari Vatanen (Finland), who will be behind the wheel of the Nissan Pickup for the third consecutive year. The absolute record-holder for the number of stage wins, having celebrated his 50th on the Dakar 2004, Vatanen will be co-driven for the first time in his career by Tiziano Siviero (Italy), the former co-driver for another World Rally Champion, Miki Biasion.
The third Nissan Pickup with be driven by the South African Cross-Country Rally Champion Giniel de Villiers, who will also have a new co-driver guiding him through the Sahara - Jean-Marie Lurquin (Belgium).
Colin McRae said: "The Dakar is a great challenge and I must have enjoyed it last year because I’m back again! The event is something I’ve always wanted to do for years, and I remember when I was young watching Ari Vatanen contesting the event and thinking how great it looked. When I had the opportunity to do it for the first time last year with Nissan I jumped at the chance, and now I’m delighted to be back. The event was pretty much as I expected it would be, but I also learned a lot. I plan to start a lot faster this year and not get stuck behind other people’s dust. You also have to learn to be patient and get the way you approach a World Championship rally out of your mind. If you have to stop and change a puncture and lose two minutes it’s not the end of the world.
"Reliability is the key. Nissan has done a tremendous job to develop and build a new Pickup in just nine months. It’s a small and dedicated team which works very well together and although you always wish you had more time to do more testing, our victory in Portugal has given us a great confidence boost."
Ari Vatanen said: "When I drove the new Pickup for the first time, after just ten kilometres I said, ‘Okay, this car can do it’. We are quietly confident, but on the Dakar you have to be humble because it’s a great challenge - but this time we start off with as much chance as anyone else. When we talk about finishing on the podium, it can be on the middle step."
Giniel de Villiers said: "Dakar is a very special event and I’m really looking forward to returning. It’s my co-driver’s fifteenth attempt at the rally, so he has a lot of experience, and with the new Nissan Pickup 2005 I believe we have a very good chance of scoring a good result."
Gilles Martineau, Team Manager, Nissan Rally Raid Team, said: "Our objective is to be on the podium when we reach the finish in Dakar. Compared to last year, the Pickup 2005 may look like it has only lost its rear wing, but underneath it is eighty per cent new. We have great support from Nissan and a talented team. I hope our recent victory in Portugal is a good sign for us!"
Dakar 2005 starts in Barcelona on January 1st and finishes in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, on January 16th. Two T4 trucks, five T5 trucks and six Nissan Patrol assistance vehicles will support the three car team during the event.
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