The X-Raid Mini team has last won the Dakar Rally in 2015 before Peugeot took over

The factory-backed Mini X-Raid team returns to the Dakar rally with both the Mini All4 Racing model loosely based on the Countryman and the two-wheel-drive Transformers-esque Mini John Cooper Works Buggy. Their aim? To win. The main hurdle? Japanese manufacturer Toyota and its Hilux trucks.

Believe it or not, Mini has made quite a name for itself in the world of rally raid in the past few years. The X-Raid team that manages the BMW-funded program has won the event four years in a row between 2012 and 2015 before Peugeot’s breakthrough win in 2016 followed by a Toyota success in 2017 and a return to form for Peugeot last year.

Now, Mini’s assault will be massive with a total of five all-wheel-drive Minis as well as three two-wheel-drive Mini buggies all aiming for that coveted first spot in the overall classification. They’ve surely got the driving talent needed to win this bigger-than-life event with Carlos Sainz, Stephane Peterhansel and Cyril Despres all aboard, but can they dodge all the curveballs that the rally throws at its competitors? The rally starts in merely two days, and it’s crunch time!

Mini Wants to Take the Laurels Back from Peugeot After Three Winless Years

Mini Thinks Dakar 2019 Is Payback Time
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Peugeot won the Dakar Rally for the second time in two years at the 2017 running of the event but that proved to be the last works-backed participation of the mighty Peugeot 3008 DKR.

A few outfits scrambled to buy the forsaken rally raid beasts, including Easy Rally and PH-Sport. The later employed ex-Peugeot works driver Sebastien Loeb for this year’s Dakar but, surely, Mini can overcome Loeb the privateer and a few Toyota trucks, right?

First, let’s talk fleetingly about the rules. The Minis, Peugeots, Toyotas, and others all race under the ’Cars’ umbrella. These ’cars’ which are, rather, purpose-built trucks are divided in a number of sub-classes depending on the fuel they use, with gas-powered cars allowed a bigger air restrictor, the number of driven wheels and vehicle type. With that being said, you won’t see a ’car’ in the Dakar rally weighing over 7,700 pounds.

Mini Thinks Dakar 2019 Is Payback Time
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Due to the change in air restrictor size, the X-Raid team decided to ditch the twin-turbocharged diesel engines fitted to the Mini buggies last year in favor of a single-turbo 6-pot gas-powered unit. Meanwhile, the All4 Countryman-based models, which are a direct evolution of the ones that won the rally four years on the trot, stick with the diesel engine although they now benefit from "revised timing and a new exhaust from Akrapovič, along with new intakes, electric turbo actuators, and air-cooled intercoolers," according to Road & Track.

The buggies will now have about 350 horsepower, about 30 more than the All4, which should allow for a top speed of about 120 mph.

The suspension was the Achille’s heel last year but, now, with one year-worth of experience behind them, as well as ex-Peugeot man Carlos Sainz onboard, X-Raid says that the buggies are sorted and ready to go. Besides Sainz, a two-time WRC and two-time Dakar winner, Stephane Peterhansel, the winningest pilot in Dakar’s history with 13 wins, and Cyril Despres will pilot the other two buggies. Between them, the three men have won the Dakar an impressive 20 times with either cars or bikes. Meanwhile, the top Mini All4 driver must be Nani Roma who’s won the Dakar twice, once on a bike and once with the Mini, in 2014.

Mini Thinks Dakar 2019 Is Payback Time
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The Minis have the numbers and, X-Raid hopes, the reliability as well. The plan should be simple: let the rest get in trouble then sail past to take the laurels. It’s safe to assume that new-comers Ssangyong with their brand-new Rexton-based Dakar monster will suffer from some new car gremlins and they’ve also only entered one example for Oscar Fuertes Aldanondo.

Then there are the Peugeots, of both the 3008 DKR and the older 2008 DKR variety. They are all run by privateer teams but you can expect 9-time WRC winner Sebastien Loeb to be the hare, at least early on.

The Frenchman retired last year after just five stages and finished runner-up the year before that. He’s clearly looking to add the Dakar rally to his illustrious cabinet next to his WRC cups and his Pikes Peak trophy but it won’t be easy with a privateer team behind him, even though PH-Sport receives some technical backing from Peugeot.

Mini Thinks Dakar 2019 Is Payback Time
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You can’t dismiss what is, arguably, Mini’s biggest threat, Toyota Gazoo Racing and its Hilux trucks. The Japanese manufacturer has a star-studded lineup of its own led by Mini ex-pat and two-time Dakar winner Nasser Al-Attiyah who’s looking for win number 3 with a third different manufacturer as his first win came with Volkswagen back in 2011. He’ll be joined by the likes of Giniel De Villiers and Netherlands’ Bernhard Ten Brinke.

Those of you who’ve followed the Dakar rally in the past will probably notice that I haven’t said a word about Mitsubishi, the winningest manufacturer in the history of the event that will celebrate its 40th year since Thierry Sabine’s vision became a tangible reality. Well, there will be an Eclipse-based T1-class truck competing. According to Evo magazine, it’s "built around a steel spaceframe chassis with a carbon fiber body" and is powered by a turbocharged diesel engine that’s capable of 340 horsepower and 505 pound-feet of torque. Spaniard Cristina Gutierrez will drive the model that takes the torch over from the venerable Pajero Evolution, the author of Mitsubishi’s 12 wins.

Mini Thinks Dakar 2019 Is Payback Time
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The 2019 Dakar rally kicks off on January 6th with all of its 1,860 miles of special stages to stay within the boundaries of Peru.

In total, the 334 competitors (bike and quad riders included) will also have to drive an added 3,100 miles as well. While still grueling, this year’s event won’t challenge the drivers, co-drivers and riders quite as much as the previous editions have since the maximum altitude that will be reached is about 8,200 feet above sea level compared to 16,400 feet when Bolivia was part of the rally as well. Still, proper nutrition and stellar navigation will be key, as well as not attacking too hard early on.

Further reading

2018 Mini John Cooper Works Rally And Buggy Exterior
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Read our full review on the 2018 Mini John Cooper Works Rally And Buggy.

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