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Organizers: Dakar Rally will weather crisis

WHILE Dakar Rally organizers acknowledge the global economic downturn has raised doubts about competitor turnout in 2010, they remain optimistic.

"The international context is one of crisis," said Dakar director Etienne Lavigne during the rally's launch yesterday in the Argentine presidential palace.

"It's difficult to anticipate what the impact will be on the number of competitors," he added.

While tight credit due to the international financial crisis has already forced Mitsubishi out of the race, Lavigne brushed aside rumors that Volkswagen would follow in the Japanese carmaker's footsteps.

Volkswagen's Giniel de Villiers of South Africa took first place in the 2009 rally and teammate Mark Miller of the United States finished second.

The Dakar was held in South America for the first time after the 2008 race was canceled because of fears of terrorist attacks in Mauritania.

The success of the 14-stage rally this year - which crossed the towering Andes separating Argentina and Chile - led organizers to hold the race in South America again, Lavigne said.

"The 2009 edition was a real success in the history of the Dakar," he said. "It awoke great passions and emotions. The competitors unanimously expressed their surprise at the landscapes they discovered," Lavigne said.

The rally will once again start from Buenos Aires on Jan. 2, crossing over into Chile and then returning to finish in the Argentine capital on Jan. 17.

Unlike this year's edition, the stages will be split between the neighboring countries, meaning more stages for Chile.

While the exact route has yet to be decided, organizers said there would be more dunes along the way and less territory covered on the windy steppes of Patagonia.

Lavigne said organizers are still investigating the death of Frenchman Pascal Terry, 49, who was found Jan. 7, three days after he'd gone missing. An autopsy revealed he died of a pulmonary edema.

Despite calling the Dakar "the safest competition in the world," Lavinge acknowledged that "we are worried about the drama we underwent with (the death of) Pascal and about security."

Organizers will now require all drivers to have competed in a World Rally competition and one Dakar Rally in the past three years.


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