LIMA (PERÚ): South Racing will keep up its tradition of running Ford off-road vehicles at the world renowned Dakar Rally for a fifth year when Bolivian Marco Bulacia and Czech Tomáš Ouřednīček wheel out a pair of Ford Rangers at the start of the event in the Peruvian capital of Lima on Saturday (January 6th).
Ahead of the two drivers lies a daunting passage through the sand dunes of Perú and the high-altitude terrain of Bolivia before the crossing into Argentina and the finish in Córdoba on January 20th.
Bulacia pedalled his South African-built Ford Ranger to a top 20 finish last year and teams up with new Argentinean navigator Eugenio Arrieta on this occasion to crew the first of the two Ford Rangers (No. 327).
The 44-year-old will relish performing well during the event’s visit to his native Bolivia and will be hoping to continue a record that has seen him finish his last five Dakars in 46th, 30th, 44th, 21st and 20th overall.
Bulacia said: “My goal is the top 15. The last Dakar was very exciting because of the number of people who were waiting for us in Bolivia. I have a new navigator, with whom I get along very well. I think the Dakar will be very entertaining. We will have seven stages of dunes. That has been missing from the last editions.”
Forty-eight-year-old Ouřednīček, from Brno, has teamed up with fellow Czech David Křipal to drive the second South Racing Ford Ranger (No. 340). He took part in the event on several occasions as a navigator for Miroslav Zapletal and finished seventh in 2009 in the car category and 40thin a truck in 2012.
In 2016, he drove a car and reached the finish in 46th overall with navigator Pavel Vaculik before joining the Central European arm of South Racing with whom he finished eighth in Hungary and 15th in both Spain and Morocco.
“My first Dakar in a car was 2016, but I will be coming back with a proper car this time,” said the Czech. “David is my new co-driver and we managed to win the Morocco Desert Challenge.
Bulacia has additional backing from YPFB, Vialco, Hard Rock Santa Cruz, BOA and Ende for his third Dakar with South Racing.
South Racing has entered Ford Rangers at the Dakar since 2014. Argentinean driver Lucio Alvarez reached the finish in Valparaiso that year in 22nd position in a South African-built car with support from Ford of Europe after team-mate Chris Visser of South Africa had crashed out on the second stage.
Fellow Argentinean and former WRC star Federico Villagra arrived at the finish in Buenos Aires the following year in 27th position, while Spaniard Xavier Pons and Chilean Daniel Mas Valdes completed the event in 2016 in 30th and 35th overall, respectively. Bulacia earned his top 20 finish last January after Pons crashed out early on.
The event starts out of Lima on Saturday (January 6th). The first five days take place entirely in Perú, with the town of Pisco hosting the first two overnight halts on January 6th and 7th, after stages through tricky coastal dunes and sandy plains.
The Dakar caravan then moves on to San Juan de Marcona, the iron ore mining and fishing hub in the Ica region for the next two nights and further sandy stages at lower altitudes in higher temperatures. Teams then begin the climb into the Andes on January 10th and a night stop over in Arequipa.
The crossing into Bolivia takes place on January 11th and teams tackle a tricky stage to La Paz, the location for the rest halt at altitude on January 12th. From La Paz, the route heads across the Altiplano to the town of Uyuni – a regular stop-off on recent Dakars – and then on to Tupiza, a city located at 2,850 metres above sea level in the Potosi mining department of Bolivia, on January 14th.
Competitors cross into Argentina on January 15th and head to the northern city of Salta via a challenging special stage. The small town of Belén in Argentina’s Catamarca province plays host to the event on January 16th, before the route heads towards Chilecito in the foothills of the Andes and the La Rioja province on January 17th.
Teams will tackle the notorious white dunes of Fiambalá before arriving in San Juan on January 18th and then heading across the vast wastelands of north-western Argentina to the country’s second city of Córdoba.
Classic WRC-style tracks will be the focus in this region around Mina Clavero and Villa Carlos Paz before a short final stage on January 20th precedes the finish in Córdoba.