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SA team among 2014 Dakar champions

The 2014 Dakar Rally in South America is a little over four weeks away.

The release of the entry list and start numbers confirms the South African Toyota Imperial team of Giniel de Villiers/Dirk von Zitzewitz and Leeroy Poulter/Rob Howie will be in the company of the world’s top rally raid teams.

There are five former cham-pions at the top of the start order, including De Villiers and Von Zitzewitz, who won the first South American version of the Dakar in 2009 and will carry 302 on their Toyota Imperial Hilux.

They finished a remarkable second in this year’s Dakar Rally after claiming third place in Toyota Motorsport South Africa’s first attempt in 2012.

Leading the field from the start in Rosario, Argentina on January 5 will be defending champions Stéphane Peterhansel and Jean Paul Cottret of France in a Mini.

Peterhansel has won the Dakar 11 times, six on a motorcycle and five in a car.

Next away will be Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar and Spanish co-driver Lucas Cruz, winners in 2011, who will also be in a Mini.

De Villiers, competing in his 11th Dakar, and Von Zitzewitz will start third ahead of 2010 winner Carlos Sainz of Spain and German co-driver Timo Gottschalk in an American-built buggy.

Spaniard Nani Roma, winner of the 2004 bike category before switching to cars, and French co-driver Michel Perrin will start fifth in a Mini.

Dakar rookie Poulter and Howie, competing in his third Dakar after finishing 10th with Duncan Vos in his rookie year in 2011, will start in 23rd position with the second Toyota Imperial Hilux.

Ahead of the 450 competitors representing 50 nationalities in cars, trucks, motorcycles and quads lies a daunting route of some 9 500 kilometres through Argentina, Bolivia (bikes and quads only) and Chile.

It is the longest, highest and hardest Dakar Rally of the past 10 years with some 5 000 kilometres of special stages – 13 in all – to test the mental and physical strength of the crews.

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