Dakar - the rally race, not the African city - seems to have had a knack for delivering heartbreak to the leading drivers the past few years. It's a tough event and almost no one comes away without losing bags of time due to mechanical problems or getting stuck in sand dunes. Even the eventual winner will suffer a few punctures and navigational errors. To win, you must take setbacks in stride and finish the 14-day event with over 3000 miles of competitive driving in 14 daily stages - it's like running 14 Baja races back to back.
When the 2008 Dakar Rally was canceled because of terrorist threats, many thought it would spell the end of the annual event. After all, Dakar is in Africa and traversing the Sahara Desert was a key element in the toughest of all off-road races.
Fortunately, there are other deserts in the world and Dakar moved to Argentina and Chile last year, where it went off without a hitch and was as tough as ever.
Volkswagen returned in 2010 to defend its title and provided 35 Amarok trucks for use by the organizers and as support vehicles for the race team. In addition to returning drivers South African Giniel de Villiers, Spaniard Carlos Sainz, and American Mark Miller, there were two new drivers on the VW team - hotshot Nasser Al-Attiyah from Qatar and Brazilian Mauricio Neves - all in Race Touaregs.
Even though Mitsubishi (which had owned the race with back-to-back wins for five years) was a no-show this year, Volkswagen was still up against a tough competitor: the X-raid BMW team campaigning X3s. After an additional year of development, X-raid had made great strides and added former Mitsubishi drivers Stephane Peterhansel and Nani Roma; VW was well aware the 2010 race might not go its way.
Then there were Robby Gordon and Andy Grider with their crowd-pleasing Hummer, who had high hopes for a win this year. The second Vanguard-sponsored Hummer was driven by B.J. Baldwin, while a third Hummer was driven by Carlo de Gavardo of Chile.
If anything, the throngs of spectators were larger this year than last as more than 360 bikes, quads, cars, and trucks set off from Buenos Aires on January 1. This year's event was run in the opposite direction and included an additional four days in the super-dry Atacama Desert in Chile.