SPANIARD PONS AND BOLIVIAN BULACIA TO DRIVE SOUTH RACING FORD RANGERS IN 2017 DAKAR RALLY
- Teams safely through scrutineering checks before rally start on New Year’s Day
- Latest generation South African-built Ford Rangers for team’s fourth Dakar
ASUNCIÓN (PARAGUAY): South Racing has now completed all the pre-event formalities before the 2017 Dakar Rally and two Ford Ranger crews are relishing the start of the 14-day event in the Paraguayan capital of Asunción on New Year’s Day (tomorrow).
The team will run a DMAS Ford Ranger for Spaniard Xavier Pons and his Argentinean navigator Ruben Garcia and a second Ranger for Bolivian driver Marco Bulacia and his new Argentinean co-driver Claudio Bustos. The cars have been prepared in collaboration with DMAS Competicion in Chile and Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM). It is the fourth time that the Ford Rangers have tackled the world’s toughest cross-country rally.
Ahead of the two South African-built cars lies a daunting route that will pass through Paraguay, Argentina and Bolivia, before returning to Argentina for the ceremonial finish in Buenos Aires on January 14th.
The team is running two of the latest generation Ford Rangers that have just achieved their most successful season to date with fourth place in Baja Spain, outright victory at the Rally dos Sertões and second overall in Portugal’s Baja Portalegre.
Former WRC star Pons heads the team for the second successive season and teams up with Garcia for the second time, after the pair excelled to finish second overall on their first event together last October. Pons has attracted additional support from Esponsorama, Cirsa and Power Electronics for his second Dakar in the Ford.
Bulacia, 43, has completed his last four Dakars and finished 21st with South Racing last year. He moves up to drive the second of the Ford Rangers with his new 47-year-old navigator and additional support from YPFB, Vialco, Hard Rock Santa Cruz, BOA and Ende. The Bolivian admits that the goal for this year is to finish in the top 12 or 13 in the overall classification.
“We have done a lot of work developing the Ranger and the results have come as a result,” said Scott Abraham, managing director of South Racing. “We have a strong line-up with Xevi and Ruben and Marco and Claudio. This Dakar will be new for a lot of the teams. It looks like, not only the altitude will play a key role, but also the weather, as we have seen by the recent rains in Southern Bolivia, Salta and Juyuy. The crews will be pushing from the first day, as road position is critical to a good result. We are looking forward to the challenge that lies ahead.”
Pons claimed the third fastest time on the Prologue stage last year and is confident that he can push on and challenge for the top places on this occasion after taking part in Baja events in Spain, Poland and Portugal in 2016.
“The experience of having finished the Dakar last time is very important. There are many stages in Bolivia and altitude will be a factor. You have to see how the body adapts. Then it passes into the heat of Argentina. I will try to be as high up the rankings as possible and improve on last year’s position.”
Bulacia is also aiming to build upon last year’s finish. “The goal this time is to finish much higher,” said the Bolivian. “I have a new navigator with Claudio Bustos. During this season I could not participate in many races and was more of a teacher, following the races of my children. I think this Dakar will be very different, because it is the first time we will be in Bolivia for so many days. I live 400 metres above sea level, so there will be no advantage for me in this respect. My first contact with the new Ford Ranger was in early December in South Africa, but my goal remains the same and that is to finish among the top 12 or 13.”
Bustos is relishing his Dakar debut. “I ran for two decades in the rally category and Marco was my rival,” said his new co-driver. “He proposed to me to be his navigator for the Dakar 2017 and this is my debut in the competition. My background goes back to the Por Las Pampas Rally in Argentina 12 years ago. Our goal is not only to finish, but we aspire to be as high as possible in the final classification.”
The route of the 2017 Dakar has been modified. There are no Chilean stages and no more visits to the Atacama Desert, but new challenges await, including a special stage of 620km and a gruelling Marathon stage in Bolivia.
The Paraguayan capital of Asuncion plays host to the race for the first time. Scrutineering and administration checks were completed today, with the official ceremonial start taking centre stage tomorrow (New Year’s Day).
The competitive action gets underway with a brand new stage between Asuncion and Resistencia, across the vast Grand Chaco, on January 2 before the route passes into Argentina and the city of San Miguel de Tucuman on January 3.
Overnight halts follow in the Andes foothills at San Salvador de Jujuy and in the southern Bolivian mining town of Tupiza before the route heads on to Oruro on January 6 and La Paz on January 7.
The Bolivian city hosts the traditional rest day on January 8, where competitors, VIPs and rally visitors will face altitudes of around 3,640 metres above sea level.
From La Paz, the route heads across the vast salt flat of Uyuni before crossing into Argentina and the city of Salta on January 10. Altitudes could top 4,800 metres one some stages.
Night halts in Chilecito, San Juan and Rio Cuarto follow on January 11, 12 and 13, before the final stages trek across central Argentina to the ceremonial finish in Buenos Aires on January 14.
Ford at Dakar entries
311. Xavier Pons (ESP)/Ruben Garcia (ESP) DMAS South Racing Ford Ranger
324. Marco Bulacia (BOL)/Claudio Bustos (ARG) South Racing Ford Ranger